Sara Kirschenbaum
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Bibliophilia from Colette

Posted Monday, Oct 31st, 2011 at 12:11pm

Here is a wonderful quote from Colette that is a testament to all that books can be, that e-readers can't.

My Mother’s House - By Colette

First Published in 1922

From the chapter, “My Mother and the Books”

Through the open top of its shade, the lamp cast its beams upon a wall entirely corrugated by the backs of books, all bound. The opposite wall was yellow, the dirty yellow of the paper-backed volumes, read, reread and in tatters. A few “Translated from the English” –price, one franc twenty-five—gave a scarlet note to the lowest shelf. Halfway up, Musset, Voltaire and the Gospels gleamed in their leaf-brown sheepskin. Littre’, Larousse and Becquerel displayed bulging backs by the irreverent adoration of four children, scattered its pages blazoned with dahlias, parrots, pink-fringed jellyfish and duck-billed platypi.

Camille Flammarion, in gold-starred blue, contained the yellow planets, the chalk-white frozen craters of the moon, and Saturn rolling within his orbit like an iridescent pearl.

Two solid earth-coloured partitions held together Elise’e Reclus, Voltaire in marbled boards, Balzac in black, and Shakespeare in olive-green.

After all these years, I have only to shut my eyes to see once more those walls faced with books. In those days I could find them in the dark. I never took a lamp when I went at night to choose one, it was enough to feel my way, as though on the keyboard of a piano, along the shelves. Lost, stolen or strayed, I could catalogue them to-day. Almost every one of them had been there before my birth. There was a time, before I learned to read, when I would curl up into a ball, like a dog in its kennel, between two volumes of Larousse. Labiche and Daudet wormed their way early into my happy childhood, condescending teachers who played with a familiar pupil. Me’rime’e came along with them, seductive and severe, dazzling my eight years at times with an incomprehensible light...

…Books, books, books. It was not that I read so many. I read and re-read the same ones. But all of them were necessary to me. Their presence, their smell, the letters of their titles and the texture of their leather bindings. Perhaps the most hermetically sealed were the dearest. I have long forgotten the name of the author of a scarlet-clad Encyclopedia, but the alphabetical references marked upon each volume have remained for me an indelible and magic word: Aphbicecladiggalbymaroidphorebstevanzy. And how I loved the Guizot whose orgate green and gold was never opened! And the inviolate Voyage d’Anacharsis! If the Histoire du Consulat et de l’Empire ever found its way to the Quais, I wager that a label would proudly proclaim its condition as: “mint”…

…Beautiful books that I used to read, beautiful books that I left unread, warm covering of the walls of my home, variegated tapestry whose hidden design rejoiced my initiated eyes…


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