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?