Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Bookworm

The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg
With an open book in both hands, one held closed between his legs, and another beneath his elbow, he tried to find the precious line. The sentence that had popped into his head ten minutes ago; he would not rest until he found it. He was certain he had read it, but couldn't recall the title of the book nor the name of the author, so to prove himself right he would locate the paragraph and page that contained it. In his paint-splattered faded jeans and Ralph Lauren polo shirt he searched; leafed carefully through, savoured words, and skimmed pages. A precarious business from the top platform of a wooden ladder, but a posture, that was for him, perfectly normal. This was where he spent most of his time: perched atop a ladder, dusting, alphabetising and cataloguing. The platform was his lookout and his seat for reading.
Killed By Books!” He announced to the book-lined room. That would be very apt for a bibliophile he mused, as he visualised his fall and the books and shelves that would topple with him. All his life, he'd wanted to be buried in books, rather than soil or sand. He paused to mop his brow with a handkerchief from his back pocket, and found his eyes drawn to Carl Spitzweg's painting: The Bookworm. He'd purposely hung it in this sanctum, his own private library, unconsciously recreating this same captured scene over and over. Visitors, when allowed, often remarked on the resemblance. He didn't see it himself although he too was of an average height with poor eyesight, the beginnings of a double chin, and hair more salt than pepper. His days on the ladder had given him a permanent curve of the spine; his figure a capital S: head and bottom jutted out like a tortoise forced from its shell.
His dear mother had christened him Fitz Williams, for she admired Jane Austen and always fell in love with bit-part characters. Colonel Fitzwilliam, the cousin of Darcy, was her favourite, and by sheer luck she had married a Williams. But in being thus named, Fitz knew he had, in one regard, disappointed her: he had not wanted to join a regiment or hoped to be a Colonel. In his early youth, he made up for this by becoming a collector. He had bowed to his mother, “Madame, Col. Fitz Williams at your service.” And his mother declared he had at last found his vocation.
Indeed, Fitz sniffed out books just like a blood-hound: using his bulbous nose to track down rare, expensive, autographed, and first editions. He particularly liked gilt lettering, unusual bindings, and copper-plated pictures, and had, over the years, built up an impressive collection which he now housed in his own private library. A 'den' with antique armchairs, a sheepskin rug, and a flickering log fire. But he didn't just collect books, he collected language; attracted to how words felt pushed round his mouth and how they rolled off his tongue. He tasted them as you would a fine wine or meal. Sentences were descriptively delectable.
Books were not separate from him, they possessed him. He saw himself as characters in every novel, was drawn into every plot as it unfolded. He poured over pages until his eyes hurt or the light faded. He caressed book covers and put on white gloves to conserve ones marked by time. He memorised the smell and texture of every book and recorded how he obtained it, scrupulously noting dates, inhaling scents and thumbing pages.
In this private world, The Bookworm got easily diverted. Engrossed, for a second he stopped. What was the line he'd been looking for? He forgot... And hastily returned to his reading.