Walking Words

I have been moving my books around. There are practical reasons for this; though the benefits are more wide-ranging. As my old friend Johannes Speyer used to say: ‘a book, like a dog, should be regularly taken for a walk. It needs to move around; to feel the air curl around its dusty spine: to breathe, in short, to be.’

Fine words, which I have done my best to ignore for the best part of my life. Moving books around, after all, takes up time. Books are heavy objects – and have an aggravating habit of refusing to fit in the space set aside for them. It was all right for Speyer to keep his books in a state of constant flux: the old professor was a bachelor, with little interest in keeping a tidy house. He lived for books – and books alone. I love books; but I have limits (I also have a wife).

And yet I cannot deny the wonders of this latest move. Some books have not travelled far; from one end of a room to another, maybe, or from an upper shelf to a lower (contrary to Speyer’s dictums, I still keep books on shelves) . The shift, small as it is, seems massive. Suddenly the book takes on a completely different character. Last week I was impervious to its charms. Today I cannot stop myself taking it down from its place. The words, which used to drop off the page like sad autumn leaves, now bounce from the paper like rabbits in spring.

It could not be clearer: books, like people, like a bit of change.


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