a book-shopper’s pangs

feeling a bit glum tonight about my book collection, or rather, the lack thereof. i don’t mean books published for the written word, with all forms of meaning severely compacted into lines of print. i mean the lovely, thick, glossy monsters you find in niche sections flush with photographs and captions. a random conversation over dinner had me recall and enact a cute japanese trick i learnt last summer in Korea which allows collapsed paper to blossom into flowers when put in water. it is a simple stunt without any real engineering behind it, but delightful to watch for the first time. the little cut-out petals, upon absorbing the water, unfurl tenderly until they are in full bloom on the surface. the boys marveled so much at this small magic that after they left, i was moved to google around for the origins of the craft. my initial trawling led to some beautiful books on japanese paper craft, with lush photography and glossy pages brimming with equally useless but pretty ideas. my happy book-surfing was short-lived. after about 10 minutes on Amazon.fr, i sobered mournfully back to reality.

moving to france has meant leaving my precious collection of books on craft, origami, architecture, human anatomy, art and my burgeoning library of world literature in the past, or at least, on hold. my gloominess stems from no longer being able to buy dinky books like 3D Pop-Up Cards!, Drawing Cutting Edge Comics, The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture, The 20th Century Art Book, The Bead Jewelry Book, Body Type (a lovely photographic collection of textual tattoos)… in good conscience. they’re too expensive for a student’s budget and too heavy to bundle around as luggage. i cannot buy this, nor that – i reason – if my current bookshelf does not belong to me and if i will continue to not own one until i am, what, 26? until then, 5,000 miles is a long and expensive way to bring books home. like a plant, a collection needs to stay put. it cannot sensibly grow until it has its own plot of earth.

on the subject of my questionable taste, two views prevail: “it’s a phase”, Cow proffers laughingly; and “浪费钱”, huffs a rueful mum (clearly mindful of the small fortune i’ve invested in such indulgences). either being correct, this is an expensive phase that is finally being put to bed by yoyo-ing between countries.

it pains me that in my present situation i can only feebly scroll through the pages on Google books, where every fifth page is omitted from the free preview. i miss book-shopping. i miss palming through shelves, arranged by category and not by size so the line-up of books is always unintentionally human: tall and short, thin and thick, spindly and robust. i miss plucking out ideas by their spines and into my lap, leafing through the glossy pages until i am particularly struck by one and become senselessly numb to the price tag on the back cover. i miss the crinkling of plastic bag around the proud corners of a new book and the smell of mint-new pages.

don’t chide me. i know i could go to the library, but that is not what i’m after. i want to roll around in the rich mud of bookstores like a happy pig and carry the weight of my indulgences home with me. in my opinion, extravagances should only be afforded by an act of equal excessiveness. if you must indulge, i say indulge all the way. buy, not borrow. amass, not let go.

unfortunately, it seems to me that a transitory student life and shallow pockets mean my collection will barely grow in the next 6 years. until then, i foresee many more nights of glum hankering like this to come.


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