A Little Celebration of a Small Accumulation

A Shelf of Books

I’m not so much a collector as I am an accumulator. When we were kids, my mother thought that my siblings and I should all collect something. I didn’t see the appeal, as I was too busy trying to read as many books as possible, so she ended up choosing something for me. Somewhere in my storage space is a box of thimbles that I got from various relatives, mostly as part of a Christmas or birthday present. When I run across them, I enjoy the associations and memories they bring up, but I don’t have any desire to add to the collection. As an adult, I can better understand the appeal of collecting. My budget doesn’t allow for art collection and my accumulation of teapots doesn’t really count, but there are a few book series that I buy.

The Massey Lectures, published by Anansi Press, is the series that I’m trying to complete. I’m missing some of the earlier lectures. I also really like the Canongate Myths series, though I’ve been a little lackadaisical about keeping up with the new releases. The rest of my book collection is quite scattershot – a little biography, a mixture of mostly Canadian, Commonwealth, and British fiction, as well as a lot of non-fiction on a bunch of different topics. It’s nice to have a little coherence added to the mix.

My other growing collection is a significant number of cookbooks. My partner and I have had to move our cookbooks from a small bookcase to a larger one, as they mysteriously go on multiplying. There’s even a series of books that bridges the gap between my cookbooks and my other book collections. Penguin’s Great Food series reprints food writing ranging from Samuel Pepys and Brillat-Savarin to Elizabeth David and Alice Waters. I think the entire series will be taking up some shelf space here before long. The books themselves are beautiful, with some of the best cover design I’ve seen in some time. The writings promise to enlighten, amuse and even offend. I think I officially have a new book (set) crush.

Since I’ve been accumulating quite a lot of posts here, one-hundred today in fact, I thought I would do a little something to celebrate and show my appreciation for those of you who’ve visited over the past year. I’ve loved your comments and even feel as though I’ve got to know some of you a little bit. I bought two of the books from the Great Food series and I’m going to give them away. As it’s also my one-year blogoversary (again, that is too a word!) on September 20th, I’ll announce the winners then. All you have to do is leave a comment, letting me know what you like to collect and which of the two books you’d prefer. (If the winners pick the same book, the person drawn first will get their choice.)

The books are these: Charles Lamb’s A Dissertation upon Roast Pig and Agnes Jekyll’s A Little Dinner Before the Play. I have to confess that I didn’t choose them because they’re my favourites of the series, but because – of the titles available at the bookstore I visited – these were the two with the prettiest covers. I do have my moments of superficiality.

A Dissertation upon Roast Pig

A Little Dinner Before the Play

Hard copy, please

I’ve been thinking about the word fugitive, lately. Not the Dr. Richard Kimble variety, but fugitive in the fine arts sense. Sometimes these effects are unintentional. Works that don’t use lightfast pigments can change colour or fade completely, while poorly produced paper can suffer damage even from a reader’s breath. Of course, sometimes the artist’s purpose is to create something temporary, as in Richard Long‘s environmental sculptures. What’s been bringing the word to mind lately, though, is the thought that we’re moving into a fugitive age, spurred by the digitization of cultural production.

Call me a Luddite, but I don’t believe that having music, books, film and television available for download or streaming can take the place of record stores, bookstores and video stores. The Amazon glitch that caused them to delete all gay and lesbian titles is an example of why I’m cautious. A more important consideration for me is my reliance on the idiosyncracies of the people who staff brick and mortar stores. Their recommendations and conversation can lead to amazing discoveries. But regardless of my objections, the tide is turning.

On May 5th, the owners of Videomatica, possibly the best video store in Canada, announced that they will be closing by the end of the summer. They’ve probably found a home for their massive collection, but it’s still a loss to our community. Don’t take my word for it, though, when you can read this eloquent piece by Darren of my local video store, Black Dog.

Not even libraries are reliable repositories for cultural production any more, as Nicholson Baker raged over in his book Double Fold. The deaccessioning craze that’s taken hold of libraries seems to be in the same vein as the narrowing of focus found in big box bookstores and online video providers. When most people want only a small portion of the newest productions, what incentive is there to carry the old, the obscure and the rare?

I’m going to continue to support the independent stores as much as I can, for as long as they last. I don’t want to think about a world in which I can’t spend time in my favourite shops, browsing through stacks of books, thumbing through cds and records, or scanning the back of dvd cases.

And that’s Ms. Luddite, to you.