Some women collect jewelry, shoes, home décor: my tastes are simple – I hoard books. Shelves line the hallways, living room, bedrooms, basement and attic. My house is so chock a block full of books stacked triple deep, I posted a warning for visitors. “Danger Falling Books!”
When my friend told me she was collecting books to donate towards a library in Somaliland, I set a goal to reduce my collection. Like a librarian, I went back into the stacks.
As I shuffled through the shelves, my children’s lives unfolded from “Good Night Moon,” to “The Runaway Bunny,” to the Bernstein Bears, the Boxcar Children, Babysitter Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and Thoroughbred series. And oh my, the childhood classics like Nancy Drew, Hardy Brothers, and Jack London. Who could imagine we would one day live in “Heidi” land?
I relived the memories of curling up on the bed with a tow headed boy tucked under my arm and dark haired girl under the other as we read, “The Pain and the Great One.” We recovered from ear infections, sore throats, and stomach bugs by rereading, “ Mrs. Bunny’s Get Well Soup” and “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
I can’t imagine a home without books. In my family, reading was a gift passed down from one generation to the next. My kids learned to love books by osmosis. They grew up reading under the bed covers, in the bathtub, and à table. During dinner, they sneaked peeks at their books hidden under the table to avoid their father’s scowling eyes.
Books marked the rites of passages. How could anyone my age ever forget Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road?” Not to mention the works of Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, or Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the wonderful classics from “To Kill A Mockingbird,” to “The Diary of Anne Frank” to “Huckleberry Finn.”
As I sorted, I rediscovered some favorite authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and Jane Hamilton. “Beloved” was so good and I had to read “The Book of Ruth” again too.
Other selections marked stages of our lives from raising kids cross culturally and bilingually to enduring teens to letting go. One shelf holds a collection of green Michelin travel guides for every region of France and canton of Switzerland. Another section houses writers’ tips a go-go with books on how to write humor, travel, sports, memoir, and fiction and develop action, dialogue, and character.
I used to be a sucker for self-help books guaranteed to cure everything from chronic fatigue to back pain to headaches, as well as every mystery disease that fell under the “syndrome” category for lack of a better, more believable term. Fitness guides like “Yoga for Dummies” and “Pilates for Beginners” come out of retirement at regular intervals.
One shelf holds a ridiculously large collection of every basketball biography ever written in hard back, no less. Others are filled with the family’s favorite mysteries, Agatha Christie, Jack Higgins, John Grisham, David Baldacci, and Tony Hillerman.
We also have a collection of French authors. Hardback comic books, an integral part of French culture, were big hits in our home where our children learned history through the Les Aventures de Tintin, the misadventures of Asterix & Obelix, and the gaffs of Gaston.
Certainly our son’s deadpan humor was also honed from the pages of Calvin & Hobbes and that crazy fat cat Garfield.
We accumulated more books than the local library. Parting with any created a major dilemma; each page held a treasured memory of a visit from family. Over the years, grandparents, siblings and friends brought oodles of books tucked in suitcase corners to help foster our children’s love of language and learning. Our home became a lending library for guests crisscrossing the Atlantic. Bring a book over; take a book back.
I’ll be the first to admit my obsession is out of hand; I haven’t gotten far pruning those bookshelves. Each time I peruse a title, I get caught back up in the action on the page.
Spring-cleaning shelves fell by the wayside; I set a new goal – reread all my favorites.