I love libraries--the elegant spines with gilt lettering, the glossy new paperbacks, the yellowed first editions, the faded inscriptions, the drab old Pelican books with their blue and white covers, the orange and white Penguin novels, the heavy Atlases and art books. I love the faint musty smell that invites the mind and imagination to feast. Most of all I love personal libraries, collections of a lifetime, volumes that speak of the many facets of a personality.
I loved my parents' library, now gone, like my father.
In my parents' library, the Liberal synagogue Service of the Heart rubbed shoulders with the Death of God. Jeeves competed with Shakespeare for my attention. My father's love of adventure manifested in Scott of the Antarctic and Edmund Hillary, in nautical handbooks and Murray's Undiscovered Scotland. His humour came forth in nightly readings from The Penguin Book of Comical and Curious Verse. My mother's eclectic tastes ranged from Agatha Christie to Kant, from Jane Austen and Tolstoy to DH Lawrence and Sigfried Sassoon.
The library chilled my spine with the Triffids and The Death of Grass and enriched my poetic spirit with Beowulf, Piers Plowman and Palgrave's Golden Treasury. I was six when I found Coral Island and began telling family and friends about long pig and cannibalism. At thirteen, I decided to read every book in the library, regaling my teenage years with Freud and Machiavelli, Chlochemerle and Kropotkin, Huxley and Camus; keeping company with Darcy and Heathcliff. I searched for the Abominable Snowman, traveled round the world in eighty days, fought the War of the Worlds and suffered the indignities awaiting us in Nineteen Eighty Four. My parents' library shaped my mind and spirit as no school or church could ever do, allowing me to roam the universe of imagination.
Today, I too have a library, reflecting my personality and that of the one I love. Our library is home to Rumi and Hafiz, Shankara and Valmiki, Ramakrishna and Buddha, Cartier-Bresson and Ginsberg, Charak and Bob Dylan. Weber's Rocky Mountain Flora shares a shelf with Blake's Songs of Innocence. As my parents' library was a feast of the imagination, ours is a banquet of love and spirit. In our small house, the great ones of past and present live and speak through the library, a storehouse of perennial wisdom. They tell us of impermanence, and that all things, even libraries, like their creators, will one day be gone. Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svahah!