Saturday, November 21, 2015

Deserts and detachment: thoughts on my library

Trinity College Library
Paul Campbell SJ wrote today about gratitude (for cars!) and attachments, and Elizabeth Scalia has a post up with a quiz challenging readers to match books with the person who would want that volume if stranded on a desert island, and Robin is wondering about questions to ask herself as she balances at a life cusp. All of which got me thinking about my relationship to books.

I'm just off a long plane ride (the 7th in as many weeks), and the very first thing that goes in my carry-on bag is a book — or maybe several books.  Because I get anxious at the thought of being stranded somewhere with nothing to read.  I brought a book when I was in labor.  And I read it between contractions. At least at first.

These days ebooks should in principle lighten my load.  Except that I carry a charger and an back-up power stick...and a real book, just in case I'm really stuck. What do I read into this need to having reading material close to hand?  It's an attachment to be sure, and one that literally weighs me down at time. The deeper question is whether it weighs down me down metaphysically, are my books windows or doors or chairs - possessions that let light in, allow me to move to new places, or settle down with old friends, with God?  Or are they stumbling blocks, hemming me in?

While I was in Ireland a few weeks ago, I saw a beautiful bowl set into the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic near Slieve League and wondered what it would be like to live in a hermitage there. (Never mind my fear of heights and how I might get to a hermitage that was in the middle of a cliff side — that's fodder for another post about enclosures!)  What books would I pack to take?

Sagas, I think, long tangled pieces of fiction to read in front of a fire, and short stories, to hopscotch across worlds while living in this one small place.  Saints, too.  John of the Cross for the long nights and the desert monastics for the long days (or perhaps vice versa). Poetry, words that can never be exhausted.  Rilke and Rumi.  Marilyn Nelson and Billy Collins.   The Psalms.

And then I think a solar panel — to charge my iPad — and a satellite connection, and wi-fi, so I will never run out of things to read.  And I start to worry that I could never drag it all up the cliff...


  1. I understand the over-packing of books, especially when traveling. One time I ended up stuck with nothing to read - I went to the hospital to get blood work done (anticipated 30-60 minute visit) and got stuck in ER for 7 hours. I finished the book I had brought with me part-way through my wait which made me even grumpier than I already was.

    I am looking forward to travelling at Christmas this year as I am going by train - 26 hours each way with nothing to do but read. I've already started putting together a stack of books that will travel with me.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.