Bookshelves

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Cicero

I resist joining the e-book fascination. I like my page turners with real pages, my underlines with real pencils and my coffee spills with real stains. I like the touch, the heft, the physicality of a book. Besides, books aren’t just to read. Some hide dried auburn maple leaves, a birthday horoscope from years past, a Chinese fortune too good to let go.

Like my garden, my books multiply and grow, expanding into whatever space I give them. Unfortunately, I am in my thinning years–thinning my stuff, not me. The next time I move it won’t be to something bigger–it will be to something smaller–and so I assess the bookshelves of my life. They are all over–living room, bedroom, spare room, attic, over the refrigerator, in closets. Books to read, books to remember, books to never read, books to have just in case I want a fresh idea, books inherited, books to pass on. Stacks of books grow when shelves overflow.

My bookshelves are like good friends who come for tea to reminisce about the “good old days”. Memories stored between the pages are ready to be recalled with a quick glance.

I run my eyes over the shelf of children’s books. Here is the alphabet book that stoked ideas for first grade letter days–C is for crown, cow and copy cat. It is bound in duct tape from when steel gray was the only color available. The paperback version of All Tutus Should be Pink is barely attached to its cover as dried cellophane tape loosens its grip. The Hobbit’s pages are weathered and stuck together, left out in a surprise summer shower.

A shelf of travel books beckons me to places remembered and places unseen. I only recently let go of Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day–a tome my friend and I carried through eight European countries one summer when we were young. It led us to small pensions, hidden B&Bs and 4th floor miniature hotel rooms with well worn marble staircases and no elevator. That book that was truly a “write your own adventure story.” Today my travel books are country or city specific. I am no longer willing or able to give a whole summer to a dream vacation on the cheap.

Over my refrigerator is a shelf of cookbooks. I have three copies of Joy of Cooking, each with its own reliable recipes. My tattered blue-cover version has a scalloped potato recipe not carried in the new editions. Though three Joy of Cooking books should hold almost anything I want to create, I have many specialty cookbooks as well–Indian, Chinese, Ice Cream. I was gifted Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking after seeing the movie Julia and Julia. I am nowhere close to making all those recipes! I need at least another lifetime. This shelf of good eating is held in place by a box holding recipe cards and newspaper clippings of cherished dishes and untried recipes. Some are barely readable but I cannot let go of my mother’s handwriting or the confidence I have in the familiar faded ink.

A great benefit of a “real” book are bent corners. My poetry shelf has lots of bent corners. If there are no poems worth bending a corner, no need to keep the book. These bring me solace at difficult times. I find them immediately on the poetry shelf. The day of my Mother’s funeral I searched for a prayer book that provided comfort. I could not find it, though I roamed shelf after shelf. Finally, in exasperation, I grabbed a Mary Oliver book of poetry and cracked it open to just what I needed. “I thought the earth/remembered me/she took me back so tenderly”. We read it at her burial; it so fit my gardener mother’s return to the earth.

My self-help shelf chronicles my journey into self-awareness. Papers spill out with notes, self-assessments and strategies. In The Narcissistic Family I learned how people who come from narcissistic families have many of the same traits as those raised in alcoholic systems. Melanie Beatty’s Codependent No More became a rallying cry. Brené Brown reminds me to let go of shaming self-talk. I have multiple copies on this shelf to loan to others searching for freedom.

I have books that friends have given me that I hang on to long after I have read (or chosen not to read) because, though the book is not remarkable, the friend is. I still cherish my original copies of Little Women, Peter Pan and Andersen’s Fairy Tales, all gifts from a favorite Aunt who passed on her love of reading.

I don’t often reread a book–there are so many still to read. My Mother, however, had favorites she returned to. She learned it from her mother who would send my young mom to the small town library and when there were no new books, she wanted Dickens for another read. Mother’s favorite book was Gone with the Wind. She never missed a rerun of the movie and who knows how many times she read it. As her memory faded in her last months of life I bought a fresh copy of this treasured book. I figured that it wouldn’t matter if she remembered what she had read the day before, knowing the book by heart. And it didn’t. In just a few weeks she had read the 1,037 pages from cover to cover. I knew because I watched the bookmark move.

My many bookshelves form my library, not in tall bookcases but spread throughout the house. They are a treasure important mainly to me. I recognize that they disclose a lot about me. That’s ok. When I am gone they will be scattered, like the leaves of fall. Maybe, with a little luck, a few will find just the right bookshelf to make a home–or help build a new library.


Mary Lou Logsdon provides spiritual direction and leads retreats in the Twin Cities. She teaches in the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction training program and can be contacted at logsdon.marylou@gmail.com.

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