Features & Stories


Story and photo by Trudy Frisk


"All who are smitten with the love of books think cheaply of the World & Wealth: the same man cannot love both gold & Books.." Richard of Bury, Bishop of Durham, 1346

Isn’t that a noble sentiment; prizing books and learning more than wealth? To a book addict, however, it has the hollow ring of a bishop trying to justify to his synod spending all his stipend on illuminated manuscripts, while his cassock is ragged, his miter dusty and his servants resentful from being forbidden to move piles of parchment because, "If you do, I’ll never find anything again!"

Books do that to you. He was right about wealth though, If we book lovers have to choose between RRSPs and books, we go for the folios every time. Not content with buying the books we enjoy, we want our nearest and dearest to share our pleasure.

At a book reading in a city store, I discovered the latest volume of B.C. humourist Eric Nicol. Naturally I had to have one. I bought one for my sister for Xmas and one for a friend’s birthday. Only my companion’s quick action in hastily holding her hand over my mouth prevented me blurting out , "A round for the house! Books for everyone!"

We addicts buy all the books we can discover about any subject that intrigues us, horses, gardens, astronomy, so we’ll have all the information handy. This can have unexpected consequences, as I realized when the librarian from our local college called to ask if I’d lend my books to students in a particular ecology course. She assured me that I had more books on that topic than the College. It’s a sobering thought.

Lending books is a delicate matter; the college had to get along without mine. Borrowers generally fall into two groups; the casual type who forget they’ve taken your first edition of Riders of the Purple Sage until they find it in the cat’s bed; or, those who love the book so much they stoutly insist it’s theirs, in spite of the author’s autographed dedication to you in it. I save my friendships by buying copies of books just to lend. I bet Richard of Durham never lent so much as a bit of vellum without a copy.

There were no magazines in Durham in 1346, but , if there had been Bishop Richard would have subscribed. He’ll never know the stress he avoided. As a teenager, I dreamed of being an archaeologist. Often, when digging through piles of books and magazines in search of a specific article, I realized part of that dream has been fulfilled. I get to shift mountains of debris, occasionally turning up a treasure.

Sometimes there are exciting finds. The issue of Canadian Cowboy, which I’d accused the magazine of never mailing, was discovered, still in its wrapper, in an armload of other reading material. Red-faced, I skulked upstairs and put it beside the replacement copy the editors had kindly sent. "So, that’s where the Doris Daley poems went!", I exclaimed in glee, as I continued excavating. It’s not that a person doesn’t WANT to read Practical Horseman or the Northern Horse Review; it’s just that they’re buried beneath last month’s Western Living and November’s Canadian Thoroughbred. But, we know that they contain darn good, useful information and we plan to read them. Eventually we do, a bit later than most other people.

We try, we really try, to stem the rising tide of paper. A friend who’d bought a new washer and dryer put the old ones , temporarily on the porch, intending to sell them. Two weeks later they’d vanished. "Did they sell?" I asked. "No". , she replied defensively. "I just got rid of them. They were starting to attract magazines!"

The magnetism by which any flat surface automatically draws paper to it deserves detailed scientific study. Ask any book lover. A footstool, chair, counter, washing machine, unused stove top , (the ones in use are far too dangerous), or floor, will be buried two feet deep in paper in less than a week unless the book devotee is tirelessly vigilant.

We’re pleasantly surprised – at Xmas, say- when we make a determined effort to consolidate the mounds, to find how large the dining table is and how many chairs are available for company.

This passion for books begins in childhood. My son and I took books long on our picnics. If the car broke down or ants devoured the lunch, well, we could still read Old Yeller. People who never read a book horrify us. And, those who sell, actually sell, books they like ….? Heretics! Like selling your children.

Our shelves testify to former interests. The years we learned French, quilted, took up horseshoeing, or built bird houses, all wait patiently in the books we left behind.

Fortunately book fanatics understand each other. If a friend apologizes for not yet having read the book on dog psychology I gave her for Xmas, I don’t criticize. I know she’s bravely working her way through the history of Scotland from the Xmas before. When my lunch date excused himself early to rush home and clean house before his new cleaning lady arrived, I wasn’t offended. "If I’m not there, " he explained in a hunted tone, "she’ll throw those piles of paper out, and I’ll need them – sometime!"

In these days of global warming the only glaciers growing are the paper ones over-flowing our bookshelves. We book lovers accept that there’s no cure for our malady. We’re doomed to be forever guilty, surrounded by books yet to be read, people for whom every week is Canada Book Week. We have only one request; give us our own patron saint to will comfort and guide us. Other lovers have St. Valentine. For those of us who love books, not wisely but far too well, Richard of Bury, Bishop of Durham will do nicely, thank you.

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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