Thursday, March 27, 2008

LEARNING STUFF FROM BOOKS

I love books. There's pretty much nothing I don't love about a book. I love the way books look on the shelf. Old, dust-jackets lost long ago, spines slightly frayed, chipped, faded. Cheap mass market paperbacks, obviously read with spines creased and broken--you just know that if you take one off the shelf it will fall open to a favorite passage, or perhaps a dirty one. Brand new clothbound books, dust-jackets still crisp and fresh, maybe even encased in a protective plastic covering. Bookmarks still stuck in them, a receipt, a ticket stub, an envelope, sometimes at the point where I finally gave up reading (the liberating moment when I realized that I didn't have to finish every single book I started is an entry in itself), sometimes just stuck in the front or back of the book because I neglected to remove it when I did finish. Arranged neatly on the shelf, properly alphabetized and pulled flush to the edge, stacked here and there in various corners of the room, waist high and always threatening to topple over, piled on chairs and bedside tables and the bathroom counter.



I love the way books feel in my hands. I've been carrying books around with me for so many years, they feel like a natural extension of my arms. I could never get used to carrying a little clutch purse, but can walk around all day with a book in my hands. I love the way books smell, paper and ink, sometimes musty, smoky if they lived in a smoking household prior to entering mine. I have one regular customer who routinely inhales deeply of every book he picks up. It's simultaneously endearing and a little creepy.

I love having books around me. My boyfriend makes fun of me, because I acquire books at such a rate that I couldn't possibly read them all. But it's not just possession that makes me acquisitional; it's being surrounded by them, always knowing there's a book at hand, maybe one day having all the books at hand. Well, I guess possession really is a big part of it. So what, I'll never be a Zen master, divested of earthly possessions.

Most of all, of course, I love what I get from books. I can't think of a single book I've read--or abandoned--that hasn't given me something, even if that something was the smug feeling that my cat could make a better show of it than the author managed. I love formula fiction, with predictable evil villains, hard-boiled heroes, beautiful damsels in distress. I love mysteries, horror, science fiction, even the occasional romance. I love literary fiction, the new stuff and the classics. I don't read nonfiction (except for knitting books, see below), but I love it and want to own it anyway. I've got science books, biographies, philosophy, history in my collection. (There's some part of me that's convinced that I'll be able to pick some of the knowledge up through osmosis, just by having the books around me.)

And you can actually teach yourself how to do things by reading books. I recently taught myself to knit from a book Knitting for Dummies, by Pam Allen. I had learned to knit as a little girl, but hadn't picked up a pair of needles in 30 plus years. I read the words, followed the diagrams, and lo and behold, I was knitting a scarf. If you've never learned anything using one of the For Dummies books, I urge you to check them out. While the series title is off-putting to some, I love the fact that these books, while assuming you know nothing about the subject of your interest, don't talk down to you. They're formatted in an easy to follow manner, and if you do have some basic knowledge of your subject but want to take it to the next level they let you know how to skip ahead without missing anything important. They're also written by experts in their fields, many of whom already have extensive writing and teaching credits on their resumes.

After making my way through Knitting for Dummies I started to explore the world of knitting literature, and discovered that knitters really love books. In addition to a rich backlist of books written by knitters in previous generations (Maggie Righetti and the great Elizabeth Zimmerman, to name just two), there's a contemporary trend toward fun, irreverent books by women like Debbie Stoller (Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook) and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot. Not only do these women love to knit, but they love to talk, and, more importantly, write about knitting. The how-to, of course, but also the why, the wherefore, the what we get from knitting.

I've recently graduated from scarves to socks, learning all kinds of new methods, such as decreasing and turning the heel, from Stephanie's latest book Knitting Rules! (The exclamation point is part of the title...although enthusiastic I'm not exclamation point enthusiastic.) I'm hoping that there will be socks all around for Christmas this year, courtesy of a book.

What I'm reading now: Paint it Black, by Janet Fitch

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