Books and Me: Phantoms on the Bookshelves

Book Title: Phantoms on the Bookshelves

Author: Jacques BonnetPhantoms on the Bookshelf Book Cover

I wonder how much we, book lovers will miss if good souls did not translate interesting works from native languages to languages we know. This book ‘Phantoms on the bookshelves’ is one such French work translated into English by Sian Reynolds. Thanks for this kind gesture.

As the book proclaims up front, this is a ‘book about books’. It is for bibliophiles by a bibliophile. The book speaks about the ‘personal library’ and how it reflects the attitude of the collector. The concept of a personal library is slowly reducing in intensity since space is becoming a constraint and so is the time to maintain them. We read books for a variety of reasons.  Some may be pure pleasure, sometimes to learn, at times to dream, and many times to forget. Whatever be the reason, books are man’s greatest friend. They support and they scorn distance. They take us to places and introduce us to people who we don’t know.

Many times even people who buy a lot of books feel that it is not a great investment since they are not able to read many of the books. But as the author says, books sometimes are not bought to be read right then, they may come in handy for reference, or like how I picked this book up to read after almost two years of purchase (delayed reading). I bought this book during one of my book buying expeditions. Since I picked a lot of books then, I could not read them. They remained in my personal library till a few days back, when I was wondering what would be a good book to review as part of the National Book Week celebration. I remembered that there were a few books that I had picked long time back on books and decided that this weekend was the best time to go through them.

As is beautifully captured in the words of Alberto Manguel, “The truth is that a library, whatever its size, does not need to have been read cover to cover to serve a useful purpose.” I totally agree. There are times when I have just walked into my personal library and simply felt nice being in the midst of those lovely tomes, small and big, white and yellow, with varying fragrances coming out of them; but they simply relax us. Peace happens.

As one reads the books, it reflects the crazy passion of book lover. It is love without a reason. It is love one way. It is amazing to simply be around them. But all of this is not easy to come by and is also not easy to keep. As the author rightly conveys, it is the book lovers who mostly do with less money than needed to buy the books. It is they who look for cutting corners everywhere else to ensure that books are bought. A lot of people question their rationality, without knowing that man is inherently irrational. But nothing stops the bibliophile from collecting them.

The books are difficult to maintain. With rats, worms, dust and borrowers always trying to move them away from safe zone, it takes a lot of effort from the bibliophile to keep the book to the shelf, safe and sound. I have personally tried many times to make an inventory of my personal library, but have been quite unsuccessful. I know where I have kept certain books, I can remember them like a top end inventory system; but without me it is simply chaos. No one else can locate it. The author talks about the many ways in which people stock their books, by name, genre, and purchase date, amongst others. No one standard here – only personal choices. After all it is a personal library, isn’t it?

With too many options to take man away from books including but not limited to television, mobile phones, social media, communication apps on handhelds, etc, it is difficult to find too many voracious readers. Finding books collectors and people with personal libraries is becoming rare too. The Kindle and other reading apps are also reducing the purchase of physical copies of books. Even though, I am also exploring the Kindle with a few books, there is something magical about a book that is irreplaceable. So, it is not surprising that even after having a Kindle to read, I still end up purchasing physical copies of books, especially ones that have such a fine finish. These good looking ones are sometimes low cost paperbacks – even their finish is attractive.

Love for books must continue. They are man’s best friend – especially because they express themselves one way. They only give and have no expectations from us. They transport us to another world. They give us knowledge, make us imagine, dream and derive immense peace and happiness. There is nothing that can replace the joy of finding the book of a favorite author. The only thing that comes close is reading it and going to bed.

This book is filled with quotes, thoughts, ideas about books from the author (a bibliophile) and also other authors who have written about books. And not to forget, the book, in its little sized, hard cover is beautifully done and is still light enough to carry around to read at a coffee shop or during a travel. Keep a pencil with you when you leave – the notes on the margins will speak to you when you pick the book up many years later! Highly recommended for books lovers and book collectors!

NOTE: 14th to 20th November is celebrated annually in India as the ‘National Book Week’. As part of the celebration I am posting ‘book reviews’ daily. Happy Reading!

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