Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Collecting "magical"

Have you ever had the feeling of joy when an awaited package arrives for you?
Can you find peace in a room of books, public or private?

Okay, so I'm talking about myself, though not only myself. About a decade ago I visited an acquaintance who graciously allowed me to visit for several hours in his home library. Some of the books were rare, they were organized, and the cases were of finely polished wood. Wow.  Last week I joined a private online forum and swooned at photos of a few more acquaintances book collections, all nicely arranged in cases of finely polished wood.

As a youth I decried the commercialism of collecting, but now I'm not so sure. What I've learned with time --I am older than I used to be :) --- is that book collecting, for me, is calming. It's not just the excitement of getting a new book for the shelves, that's just the exciting part. The larger utility, if I'm not overstating, is that I look at books on shelves, mine or someone else's, with joy.

I won't go so far as to say that I advocate collecting ---I think that advocating should be reserved for things where the consequences are life and death: water shortages, starvation in the midst of plenty, and such. And I don't doubt that buying things can be done without heart, mindlessly, to numb some sort of emotional pain. And therefore be self-defeating, of sorts, even if it is not resulting in financial trouble.

But a wall full of books about a favorite subject can stir my heart, as it has for most of my life. Just because buying _can_ be self-destructive does not mean that it has to be.

And my preferred subject, mostly, is Houdini, his predecessors and successors. They were entertainers who brought joy to people, and they brought that joy by pretending ---pretending--- to defy science....

I could wax poetic, but the truth is that a bookcase full of biographies of these mostly forgotten, mostly itinerant entertainers reminds of the precious times that I have been given joy by the performance of the impossible: Ricky Jay's graceful cheating, Peter Samelson's magic as metaphor, Doug Henning's sense of fantasy, David Copperfield's magician-as-rock-star.

I'd type more, but I want to get back to reading a book I got in the mail today about the different meanings of the word "magic." And then, I'll carry it over to my bookcase and admire it next to all the others. There have been magic books for as long as there have been books, more than ten thousand of them, and what they mean has changed with the centuries. But that's a post for another day.

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