I’ve always needed to have books around me, quantities of them, ever since I can remember. There may be something pathological about it. When I was a boy, the eldest child of literate but not bibliophile parents, in a big enough house in suburban Cheshire, most of my pocket money went on books – Billy Bunter, Jennings, William, War Picture Library, Biggles, Arthur Ransome, bird books. In the 1950s I used to order Puffin books by post from the catalogue, the pleasure of unwrapping the parcel rivalling the discovery of a new book in a Christmas stocking. For my ninth or tenth birthday I asked for a glass-fronted bookcase, and loved to make rows of uniform jacketed hardbacks and bright Puffins. Writing now, I find all this rather odd. I didn’t know anybody else, child or adult, who acquired books, or collected anything seriously, even stamps. I got through quantities of library books each week, but that wasn’t the same as owning them myself. I suppose I felt that possession gave me a different kind of relationship with the stories the books contained; it certainly brought me closer to the kind of life I enjoyed imagining for myself, living in a rambling old house in the country with secret passages, or, more often, in a tall terrace in London, with high dark rooms full of untidy piles of books and wildly interesting – more interesting than my parents – grown-ups. I felt more at home in that world than I did in the one I was required to inhabit, which seemed lacklustre and ordinary, and the rows of books became a defence against normality as well as a way to escape from it. It functioned as a sort of carapace, almost as character-armour in the Reichian sense. The sight of the books, the feel of them, their colour and their smell were a reliable source of pleasure and comfort separate from but always associated with the narratives and locations to which they provided access.
Source: London Review of Books –