Me and My People: The Book People, That Is.
30 September 2021
I really struggle with having any kind of group identity.
I kind of want to be part of a community, and I want to contribute something to the greater good, but I am not physiologically set up for it. The minute I set foot in any institution, be it school, a government building, church, anything others might "belong" to--my skin just crawls. I took the eldest CRjr to look over his new middle school on Back to School Day this year and got one look at the cinder block, the fluorescent lighting, and the institutional flooring, and all I could think was LET ME OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW. It's distracting.*
But there is one group of people with whom I think I will always identify, and that is the Book People. Not just readers, mind you. I love readers too. But mostly I love the Book People. Like Shaun Bythell. Bythell, author of the superlative diaries The Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller, has a new(ish) book out called The Seven Kinds of People You Find In Bookshops.
It's not as good as his first two books, because, let's face it, those books were fabulous and it's hard to do that every year. It was still a very funny and very enjoyable read and just reading the writing of someone else who handles actual physical books and loves them was very comforting to me.
If you can't tell, I'm a bit frapped these days, so I've also been treating myself to some Helene Hanff re-reading. Every couple of years or so I get all her books from the library (I own several of them but they're out on loan to other readers, or I just keep giving them away because everyone must read Helene Hanff RIGHT NOW) and read through them again and they never fail to make me happy. I just re-read The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (her follow-up to her classice 84, Charing Cross Road) and Letter from New York, and I'll be re-reading Q's Legacy this weekend. Helene loved books and loved writing and she died having never made enough money but wow, I think while she lived, Helene lived the perfect bookish life I would like to live.
Speaking of books as physical objects, the library copy of The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is the exact same book I took to the hospital with me when I had the youngest CRjr. (I know it's the same copy because it's very distinctive and its Dewey Decimal number is handwritten on the spine.) Yup, that's what I packed in my hospital bag for when I had a baby: Fiber One bars, stool softener, and the complete works of Helene Hanff.** I remember very clearly sitting in my hospital room, blissfully eating a tuna sandwich I hadn't made off dishes I wouldn't have to wash, looking at my beautifully sleeping new baby, and reading Helene Hanff's The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. It is one of my most sacred memories.
People who love books, you are the only community I have left. Thank you.
*I was happy last Monday night to see the Packers win against the 49ers, and thought, hey, I still periodically care about the Packers, there's a little bit of group identity, isn't that nice.
**I didn't even bother packing my own nightgown. Screw it. I wore their ratty hospital gowns for three days so I wouldn't have to wash my own nightgown when I got home. Hospitals gross me out, so any clothes I wear into them I usually just want to burn afterwards.