Do you have a personal library?
I would imagine that anyone who reads this blog regularly would have a collection of books he or she keeps around. I do. Why do we keep them around? In my case, I am not much of a rereader. Yet many of my books, even ones I’ll probably not even open again, and even forget I still have, I will never part with. Sometimes I’ll happen on one of them when taking down some other book. I’ll remember how old I was when I found it. And where. And sometimes even the way the sun slanted through the shop window when I first saw it. I remember also the joy, or relive the shock, or suffer still the sorrow I felt when I first read it.
Friends and loved ones have come and gone in my life, many of them as wrenching losses, others as luminous additions, but through it all my books alone have known me and stood beside me. They’ve lived through every one of the varied addresses I’ve known over several decades. To lose this book, or that, would be to lose my only link to the memories of who I used to be at that time of my life. No other object could possibly launch those precious memories for me.
As I stand facing my shelves of books, I sometimes wonder at their cumulative power in stating who I am. They reflect the neural pathways of my brain. Taken together they represent my mind. I have no overriding arrangement to the order of the books on my shelves. If I have many on one topic, they’ll probably stand together.
But just suppose I placed them in the order in which I read them. Couldn’t I then trace along the shelves the evolution of myself as a thinking person? And not just my ideas, but couldn’t I also trace the history of certain subtle emotions as they arose and grew and took shape in my heart? And if that is true, that I could trace the history of my heart, and my mind, is there a point at which my moving finger could stop and I could say: “There, this is where I became who I am”?
Would it be the most recent book I read and placed there? Or did I fundamentally become the person I am some time long ago, and all the additons are merely accentuations?
Such heady stuff.