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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Personal Libraries and a Method to the Madness by Martha Reed

We had long harsh months of gray days and bitter winter when I was growing up in Ohio. Back in those dinosaur days, television only offered three channels (NBC, ABC, CBS) and the interactive outlet known as the internet wasn’t even imagined. What we did have were plenty of books.

My grandfather and grandmother were voracious readers. Pop liked political and military biographies and Mamie kept up with the latest seriously high-brow literature with her monthly book club. I grew up surrounded by bookshelves and I was pretty much allowed to read whatever I liked. I think my parents figured if I got ahold of anything too prurient it would go over my head, which it did. I’ve gone back and re-read some of the novels I read in childhood. I’ve been surprised to find that there was a whole other storyline going on that I had completely missed.

I remember reading Wuthering Heights at a way-too-early age. I moped around the house for days before my mother finally pinned me down and asked me what was wrong. “Cathy died and left Heathcliff alone!” I replied, bursting into tears. After that, I think Mom had a talk with the school librarian and together they kept a closer eye on my choice of reading material.

Mom had another trick for keeping me occupied during foul weather: encyclopedias. Do kids even know what those are these days? I used our musty old set of Encyclopedia Brittanica for researching book reports, and when I was itchy for something new to read Mom would hand me Volume 1 from our set. I would burrow into it, studying grammar, definitions, and then add these new words to my vocabulary. Once, when I used the word ‘sanctuary’ at the dinner table, my father raised one eyebrow sympathetically, looked at my mother and asked, “She worked all the way through to “S”? Tough day.”

The trigger for these memories is that I moved into my new condo home this month. It’s taken me a week, but I’ve finally unpacked my boxes. This is my third move in five years. What is striking me is that as I continue to whittle down my furniture and my personal belongings, I’m hanging on to my three bookcases and my personal library.

I’ve given some thought as to why this is. I think I’ve figured out the method to my madness. One bookcase is filled with books by friends and writers I admire. These books are hand signed, and I treasure them. I’ve filled the second bookcase with mystery and crime fiction classics – Dorothy L. Sayers, Daphne du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith with modern classics by Dennis Lehane, Thom Thomas, Lori Rader-Day, and Louise Penny.

My third bookcase is classic literature not covered by the crime or mystery fiction label although I’m still on the fence over Silas Marner by George Elliott, Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, and Deliverance by James Dickey. To my mind, these books have definite criminal elements. I’m even willing to argue that The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is fundamentally a murder mystery at heart.

I have instituted a rule about adding new books to my collection. If I read something new that is so stellar that I simply must keep it, then I must donate one of the others to a local Free Library. This ruthless culling keeps the standard high and keeps my library volume almost within reason.

How do you manage your reading selections and/or your library? Do you use Kindle to store your books?


Jim Jackson said...

For years my method of dealing with excess books was to move to a bigger space! But when we moved from a huge Victorian to a condo I had to deal with the problem of never culling a book. College and professional books went first. I sold some "complete works" I had collected (and still have a few in boxes that I hope to sell), and since getting down into the space allotted, I also use the keep a book, donate a book. I sometimes go wild and donate a book I know I'll never read again, so I have a bit of extra space in my bookshelves.

Still that leaves 3 large bookshelves, the bookcase that's part of my old cherry desk, shelves over the windows in our northern guest cabin and shelves in the basement in our northern house. We're not exactly in a book desert.

Martha Reed said...

Hi Jim - I'm literally surrounded by books and bookshelves in my condo. Is there even such a thing as a 'book cell'? LOL because I'm working it one. And of all the books I was required to buy, the one I still have is a Norton Anthology of English Literature, and I still dip into it. My nickname for that was 'doorstop.' Yes, it's six inches thick but it's still a wonderful resource.

Shari Randall said...

As a veteran of several moves, military family, i pare down each time, but never the books! I have a serious problem! I may try your one book in, one book out method. I tried keeping books on my kindle, but I never remember they’re on there and I just end up with duplicates.

Kait said...

I’m a Kindle reader because I have lost too many books to too many moves! Yes, once an entire box the size of a small coffin went missing. My husband says it’s because the movers didn’t want to lift the darn thing. He could be on to something. I managed to keep my “special” books, autographed, personal library, books that meant something to me when I read them. Those have always traveled with me and so, I still (thankfully) have them. If I Kindle read a book that I know I’m going to want to read again, I order a paper book so I will always have it. Some things are just too good not to touch.

Martha Reed said...

I came up with the pare down method during one Thanksgiving dinner. I had the family over and hid some 'extra' books under my dining room table by throwing a tablecloth over it. Clever me. I almost got away with it until my sister kicked a stack and we had an avalanche. That's when I came up with Plan B.

Martha Reed said...

Kait, I tried using a Kindle and logically it makes sense. I just like the feeling of a 'real' paper book in my hands too much to make the leap. Sometimes, if a passage is just so damn good, I need to go back a re-read it. For some reason I don't do that on a Kindle. Plus, if it's a really good passage, I might put a sticky note on it for future reference. It takes all kinds.

Marilyn Levinson said...

I know what you mean about owning so many books. And now it's worse with the many copies I have of my own books.

I loved reading about your early adventures into books that are meant for adults. I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (I grew up in Brooklyn) when I was in second grade, I believe. I still remember elements of the book. I suppose I should go back and read it, especially since I still have that copy somewhere in my house.

I'm glad your books are in order. Alas, mine are all mixed together, though my husband's books are in order.

Martha Reed said...

Hi Marilyn - true confession: my books are in order now only because of my recent move. Unpacking them from the moving boxes tripped my professional caliber OCD. It's been a few days though, and I'm already seeing some slight disorder creeping back into the stacks.

The book that sticks in my mind is To Kill A Mockingbird. When I first read it my focus was on Scout and her coming of age tale. Only later, in high school during a re-read did I understanding what Atticus was really doing at the trial. It was eye-opening. It's still my all time favorite book.

KM Rockwood said...

Always too many books, never enough time to go back & reread everything I'd like to!

Ann Bennett said...

Reading encyclopedias brought back memories of growing up for me. We had World Books. I am so impressed you had Brittanica. They were so much better.

I got a way too many books. When I moved one time, I wound up taking about eight boxes to goodwill. I meant to keep the books but I was on a deadline to get my "crap" out of the house I sold. No worries, I easily have tripled or quadrupled those books. My problem is Amazon and coming across another book I want to read. I've seriously considered going to Bouchercom and not getting any books to deal with my situation. Not going to happen, lol

Martha Reed said...

Yes, Bouchercon or any conference is a minefield. I hear an author speak at a panel and the next thing I know I'm heading for the book room. LOL

Barbara Ryan said...

I kept books in my university office, including those sent to me to find reviewers for when I was the book review editor for “Gender & Society.” When I retired I had to get rid of most of them because I was living in a 585 Sq. Ft. Hi-rise condo. The Free Library of Philadelphia took everything I donated. I use Kindle ebook reader now and if I try to buy something I already have, Amazon lets me know. Also, I have Macular Degeneration and with ebooks, I can make the print darker and larger.