Books Herb

Children's books for the grandkids, mysteries for me — books in hand give us a sense that everything is going to be OK, writes columnist Herb Benham.

I still like books. The real ones. Long, short or two fingers thick.

I like the smell, feel and weight. Opening the book and closing it. Starting a book and finishing it.

Smart people have graduated to Kindle. Being able to store 1,000 books makes sense, especially while traveling, but I like seeing my books. Visiting with them. Strolling by them and remembering where I was when I read some of them.

“Look Homeward Angel.” will always be college, Philadelphia and my late teens. “The Magic Mountain” West L.A. and my 20s. Books can have a sense of time and place piqued by notes in the margins like “Truth,” “Beauty,” and “Don’t forget this — ever.”

Books are like wine. Some people are collectors. Some people are drinkers. Some people collect and drink but I like drinking best of all.

The problem is (if too many books are a problem), we’re out of room. The bookcases are full, the bedside tables are stacked five high and the landing is scattered with books. The only way to make room is to force two books apart and squeeze a new one but I feel like I’m strangling the poor fellow. Books need room like cowboys on the open range.

“Why don’t you give away some books?” said Sue, who is a book lover too but probably more practical.

I could, I have, but I don’t like to. I never give away mysteries, because that’s almost bad luck. If books are friends, than mysteries are good friends. It’s comforting to have a Chandler, a Stout, a Hiassen, a Connelly or a MacDonald on the shelf so after enough time passes you can forget that you’ve already read that book and read it again.

Mysteries are hospitable. If somebody is visiting for a few days and has forgotten their own book they may not want to start “Plato’s Republic,” but “A Deadly Shade of Gold” may hit the spot.

Recently in his podcast, Bill Simmons talked about his favorite sports books of all time: “The Natural,” “Loose Balls,” “A Dog in a Hat,” “North Dallas Forty,” “The Red Smith Reader." I ordered a slew and that officially threw me over the bursting-at-the-seams point. Forty more and we’ll have to call in hazmat to sort things out.

Books behind books are not good. Books are like spices, you want to know exactly what you have in your spice rack with a single glance.

The other day, Nora and I were playing in the attic of the garage. We found an old pine bookshelf that had coolers and ice chests stacked on it. I dusted and cleaned it and then applied Murphy’s Oil Soap. Not only will the books read well but they’ll smell good too.

I moved the shelf upstairs into Katie’s room. I’ve begun to organize the books that were heretofore floaters. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to play librarian and alphabetize books.

A few days ago, I went to Brenda Miller’s second-grade class at Franklin to listen to students read. Students choose from a stack of books on the reading table. As a student thumbs through the stack looking for just the right one, the only sound is a quiet rustling as they carefully pick up, hold and lay down the books.

It feels like church. Book in hand, there is a sense that everything is going to be OK. That the rough will be made smooth and the anxious calm. Then, the reading begins.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.

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