When I think of my family, of the apartment we used to live, I can see bookshelves. Many of them. In every room there was at least one. We had more books than any of my childhood friends could imagine. For some it looked like we lived in a library.
Ironically, my father didn’t read much. He loved buying books and putting them on shelves without specific order. He loved numbers, numbers of books. Most of all he adored collected works of famous authors. We had 22 volumes of Leo Tolstoy’s writings which included not only his novels, short stories and plays, but letters and drafts of his numerous works. Nobody read a third of all that. My father was extremely proud of his Charles Dickens’ collection as it occupied a whole shelf on its own and looked cute. He also subscribed for photography and chemistry magazines, as he claimed his interest in these subjects, and every year the piles of those magazines on the top of the shelves grew higher and dustier. We had the Bible, Torah, Koran and The Great Book on Atheism. They were beautiful to look at, but stayed lonely.
My mother was the one to read all those books. I recall her sitting on the sofa with her legs tucked beneath her and her eyes glued to white pages with black letters. Every evening was the same. After the dishes had been done she was there, in the living room, with her mind lost in someone’s world.
Jane Austen was one of the writers she would always come back to reread and reread again. “I belong to this era,” she told me once. “I wish I could live in those quiet and slow days.“ It seemed strange to me then; she was so energetic and joyful during the day, but obviously, on the inside, she dreamed of long peaceful walks along the green hills of Victorian England.
I started reading early; I had no other way in this environment. At five I was already on my own, reading children’s books and not bothering adults, ever. I had my world. I became a constant visitor to the school and city libraries as my father wasn’t into collecting children’s books in particular. As I grew older I read all sci-fi collections we had and dreamed about time and space travelling. And thank God, we had Chekhov to whom I still cannot say goodbye.
I didn’t inherit my father’s addiction to collecting books. Today, if I can, I go digital. I don’t feel specifically attracted to leafing the old pages, or cutting the new ones, or smelling the binding, or hugging a book with a sigh “my precious!” Besides, I don’t like dusting bookshelves. But every evening I sit on the sofa with my legs tucked beneath me and read. And this is the greatest possession I can think of, the luxury of getting lost in someone’s world.