We are re-packing the boxes I already packed, because I do not have the ability to be very discriminating about what to keep and what to get rid of for this huge move, at least not when I’m all by myself. As we open box after box we find…BOOKS and more books until I think I’m going crazy. It makes me reflect on a lifetime of loving books, and the adventures they have taken me on.
Mom joined a children’s book club when we were young, so one or two books would come in the mail every month. Oh, we loved it when they came, and we kept those books and re-read them again and again. One was about a big ball of string, another about a moose and the little boy that loved it (I still have that one). Mom also had the collection of Wizard of Oz books from her childhood, which were my absolute favorites, and I believe I also read them several times. The pictures were enchanting, particularly the one with Ozma, and I dreamed of looking like her some day. My mother had another collection of Enchanted Fairytales, which were categorized into tales from other countries, tales for younger children, tales about knights, etc. There were a couple of these volumes that I read constantly, even reading them as an adult when I went to visit. Again, at least some of the pictures were exquisite color paintings, and the stories made you feel as if you’d travelled far away.
I don’t necessarily remember being read to a lot, although I’m sure my mother did, but I do remember my father reading On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine one time when I was sick. My parents had bookshelves and bookshelves of old books that were fascinating and mysterious, because you could never tell what they were about from their old plain bindings. They also had beautiful wooden bookcases to store the books, and I grew up believing that bookcases and books are some of the most valuable possessions a person could have. At one point my dad made my sister and me bookcases for Christmas, and we treasured them and still have them.
I remember reading all the time when I was a kid, in the house, at school, on the bus, wherever. In fact even now, I never go anywhere without a book, just in case there is some waiting time involved. I loved reading stories about girls, and devoured the ones that were available. Nancy Drew was kind of revolutionary, because at least she was a detective, and all the other ones were about girls/women as stewardesses, teachers, or nurses. Women weren’t supposed to have much ambition in the 50’s and early 60’s. Of course I read the Cherry Ames (nurse) and stewardess books anyway.
When I used to visit my Nana and Papa, one of the first things my sister and I did, was go across the street to borrow the huge stacks of comic books that the neighbors had. It was the only time I remember reading comic books, but I read through that stack barely taking a breath, and loved every minute of it. I’m always amazed by parents who worry that their children are not reading “good” books when they are young. As a teacher, I’d say to let them read whatever they want, reading is different for all of us, and we like different things at different times, but the idea is to learn that it is fun and worthwhile. They have plenty of time to get choosy.
In high school I discovered the book Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I remember sitting on the bus coming home from school and reading it, completely transported by its murky story. That set me off on a Du Maurier phase, and I read everything I could get my hands on. That also remains true of me today, I love reading all the books I can by a certain author, or involving a certain character. Then it feels like I’m with an old friend, instead of starting anew each time I pick up something to read. Of course this leads to my problems with box after box of books, now that I have certain collections: Tony Hillerman, because I love them and because of where we’re moving; Bill Pronzini, because of San Francisco and his character being one of the few men characters with humility; J.A. Jance, with her southwestern mysteries; Nevada Barr and Dana Stabenow because they are both such amazing writers. And boxes of poetry (having been taught by a poet in high school who knew Donald Hall, so I got to meet him, and now have quite a bit by him as well as edited/collected by him). I, of course, have tons of songbooks, and children’s books, books on how to write, how to make floor cloths, crazy quilts, weavings, books on how to make books, and so many others.
With the children’s book collection I have both chapter books, like Stone Fox, by John Gardiner, which always makes me cry when I read it, a signed book by Virginia Hamilton and one signed by Cynthia Rylant (The Van Gogh Cafe, one of the most magical books I’ve ever read), and I have the picture books that seem life changing, they are so good, such as The Other Side (I think by Eve Bunting), and Amigo by Garth Williams, the very first children’s book I bought when I knew I wanted to go into teaching. I never fail to be amazed by how books with few or many words can so affect my feelings, my spirits and my mind, as well as inspire my awe.
I have big books, such as The Dreamtime, which I brought home from Australia, and has a whole different world in its pages, and collections of stories that make me laugh out loud, such as the ones by Bailey White, who I heard on NPR once. I have a little more trouble being faithful to reading entire non-fiction books, but I have many of those as well, such as Women of the West, and other biographies. I have a collection of books by my dad, from his children’s stories to his scientific work, which will take up a good sized shelf in my new home.
The problem at this point is, there’s not much room for bookshelves in our house! I have to figure out how to have my books around me, because they are very comforting. Probably many will have to go in the new studio/guest apartment we will be building, but I will have to work out places for my favorites in our tiny rooms. I just will have to do it.
My parents have a house full of books, they are in shelves that line one wall of their family room, they are in stacks in my dad’s study, they are piled up in the attic, they are in every bedroom, and there is a stack of magazines in the bathroom. I come from a family that gives a lot of value to books, and now I’m finding it’s hard to trim down my collection. Sarita and I have decided to choose what to take based on the joy we feel with each item, and that helps. I keep the ones that have special meanings to me, such as the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series that I read after my transplant because they were so entertaining and gentle to read, or the book In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason, about the Vietnam War, that was part of my history of growing up, or Real Sisters, that helped Winona realize she wasn’t the only African American to grow up in a basically white family.
Even while I am culling my collection of books, I am constantly reading more. I’ve gone through stages where I buy books, others where I go to the library. I have even read kindle books when I had a hole in my retina from throwing up after all my chemos, and needed something with big print. Lately I’ve also found places in the bay area to get (and give) free books — the Recycling Depot and the little free libraries people are putting up in their front yards that often look like bird houses. I read to distract myself from all the angst this move is causing, to allow myself to become tired enough to go to sleep, to entertain me when I’m in a boring situation. In my past, I would be the one reading a book in the baseball stadium, because I wasn’t really into baseball, but wanted to hang out with friends there.
I read for escape primarily, but also to learn, and I have learned a lot! Sometimes it is about history, sometimes about a culture or environment different from mine (such as Stabenow’s Alaska), sometimes it is about a life event or characteristic of a character that I can relate to or want to understand (such as when I read Carole King’s memoir to get to know another songwriter). I have a wonderful collection of cook books, that give me pleasure to peruse while I learn about qualities of vegetables and interesting baked goods to make. Sometimes what I learn from a book is a fact that is completely unexpected, such as when I was deep into a mystery recently, and was reading about this terrible “natural” poison in this seed from certain parts of the world. (It was compared to ricin, the poison that was identified in “Breaking Bad,” although this seed is quite a bit more potent). As the seed was described, I realized that I had brought several of them back from Trinidad when I was in my early twenties, always intending to make jewelry out of them because they are so beautiful. Well finally, a good reason for procrastination, because had I done so, I would be dead. They are so poisonous that just a tiny pin prick of the inside of the seed would have killed me had it gotten in a cut or something. I vaguely remember hearing that they were poison when I got them, but I thought that was only if I ate one. Not so. I went about searching for this little collection of vividly bright and beautiful seeds in my crafts stuff, found them, and disposed of them and everything they touched (safely, I hope). Whew, that was a close call.
One of the things that gave my daughters and me the most joy, was reading together at night. While one daughter was always happy to hear a new story, the other wanted the same ones over and over. And then when one was old enough for more complicated chapter books, I’d read the picture books first, and then the other for her. Neither of my children have become the kind of reader I am, but I know they remember that special time with fondness, and will read to their children. It was also my favorite time in the classroom to I read aloud to the kids. Sarita and I still read out loud to each other, on car trips, during holidays, on vacation. A friend is going in the hospital next week, and we’ve already decided what I can read to her while she’s there.
I know everyone isn’t a reader, and even though it’s hard to believe, I know that everyone doesn’t have books in their house. I was once with a partner who was so jealous of my reading, that she used to throw things at the book so that I’d put it down. I think that is just weird, but of course it had no effect on my reading, except perhaps to make me want to do it even more.
I feel more than lucky to have books and reading be such an important part of my life. I used to love to give away books at the end of the school year, when I was cleaning my classroom out for the next year. I was thrilled when Sarita had extra PTA money this year and was able to order books from Scholastic to give her children during the last week. Everyone should have their own books that are meaningful to them, no matter for what reason.
So I’m proud of what I’ve been able to get rid of — books for my daughter’s garage sale, books for the recycling depot, books for my grandson — and I’m happy to have the ones I’ve kept. Maybe I’ll have to do some kind of rotating of books on the shelves I have in the new place…well, I know I will work it out. And I’ll be sure to be a regular patron of the two nearby libraries in our new community. After all, who knows how much longer I have to read, and I know there are so many books I haven’t gotten to. And perhaps I can even help others to make their own books, with their own stories. Book making is one of my favorite crafts. Well, that’s for another blog, another day.