By Devraj Singh Kalsi
I have a habit of deep cleaning bookshelves. I mean I take all the books out of their cages and pile them up on the floor. I shuffle their pages pretty fast, to let them get a quick whiff of fresh air. The feather duster – used for the car – goes gently over the book covers.
I decided to alter their positions last time for more pleasure, but I did not have any memory of what had been positioned in the front. So, I picked up the ones with attractive covers and kept them behind, thinking that the attractive ones must have hogged the limelight.
Having finished the dusting, I threw in some naphthalene balls to keep silverfish and other bookworms away. Almost the entire packet was emptied, with the hope of zero damage to the precious books in my collection including the smutty reads. When the books were finally placed on the shelves, the new arrangement did not appeal aesthetically. The colour combination of the covers looked odd or the font did not go well.
The authors who do not gel in real life are certainly going to find it impossible to live harmoniously in that restricted space. I changed it again just like that, without any sense of discrimination. The random new look appeared better than the previous one, so I chose to let it prevail until I was faced with a negative feedback from an objective source. I decide to click pictures of the revamped bookshelf and post it on my social media handles as a display or profile photo. Agreed, this was not the ideal way to publicize the makeover for a bookshelf. With fake likes and comments pouring in, I concluded I was not going to be miserably bad in my choices.
I was suddenly hit by the novel idea of keeping half the bookshelf empty. Did that make the space look better? A crammed bookshelf is scary, gives the feeling of excess of reading stuff, suffocating to the core. I thought I was getting it right. A neighbour who noticed every single minute change was sure to be quick to appreciate by commenting that my bookshelf looked spacious, unlike the messy clutter it had been in the past. Excess of everything is bad, right?
By removing half the load, the bookshelf looked clean and attractive. But it added to my woes. I had to find a place for the other half lying scattered in the open. I had to separate the ones that I had read and did not want to keep, isolate them, sell them or donate them to any local library. It made me think of getting another bookshelf for another room. I began to look for a suitable corner for a new piece of furniture. Would the new bookshelf clutter the room?
I chose to get a small one, to control my impulsive book-buying habit. Before placing an order, I would have to think about where to keep them. I tried to change my mindset but whenever those attractive book deals would appear, it was impossible to stay away from ordering the new stuff. I thought of using a kindle to read books I do not feel like collecting. This was certain to reduce the incoming load. But when the paperback was almost priced the same as the kindle version, I couldnot resist the temptation of having the physical book in my possession.
I decided to start ordering slim books and stick to genres I like to read. But this was not an effective solution to my persistent problem. My favourite books were mostly thick and genre-bending. I decided none of this was going to work so I finally chose to distribute books I had finished reading.
Being the kind of a reader who never returns to the same book again for solace, I thought this would be fairly good solution. But the problem is that the unread books looked menacing unlike the comforting, friendly presence of the titles I already read. Just a look and I could say I had read this with pride. It gave a big boost to my confidence and encouraged me to read more.
I decided I would keep the read ones there instead of discarding them. Honestly speaking, an entire bookshelf of unread books is very insulting and depressing. Restore an ideal balance between the two. For two unread books, there should be one read book. It is a personal way of looking at it and calculating, to find a proper solution.
The idea of hiding books in the attic or the loft instead of displaying them made no sense. I found no merit in doing so. Besides, I had to place a ladder and put my life and limbs at risk to reach them for the occasional clean-up and access. The possibility of suffering a spinal injury after a bad fall scares me so I dropped the idea of making the bookshelf almost ceiling high.
Then how do I maintain a cordial relationship with my books and ensure their health and fitness? Yes, the pages are turning yellow, and I am desperately looking for an age-miracle cream to hide their autumnal years. Perhaps I should take out the ones with delicate pages from the bookshelf and send them to a library. They would find more and more readers in the shortest possible time because their life spans look limited. Well, this made sense to me, and I finally decide to take the seniors off from the bookshelves, to make it a youthful collection again. Instead of keeping the aged ones trapped on the shelves, I should get them more readers. But their appearances were likely not attractive enough to entice young readers. Maybe, the elderly readers or the mature, who believe in the healing power of words and not on the quality of the printed page, would get the chance to go through these treasures before tears set in and the pages simply go missing from the damaged spine, which would have lost its ability to keep the flock together. Sounded like a good idea and I was eager to share the big pile with the world. The best possible use of the books would be made before their end was near. The task of enlightening more minds should be carried out without delay. The act of cleaning the bookshelves brought in a rush of thoughts I that brought me happiness. It was like saying live your life so long as you have the time to live. The books from my collection still had time to live and spread happiness so I put them in front of more eyes.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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