If you read my last Terrace Standard column, you know I’ve been on organizing kick—and my latest target is my new library. I’ve had the shelves up for a few months, yet my books are still stashed willy-nilly throughout the house, much to my husband’s confusion. He doesn’t understand that I need to know what specific shelf and/or books I want to add first before I can get started. I was a tad baffled myself—and then I came upon a column I wrote a few years ago about my old house’s library.
Books mean a lot to me, so sorting, shelving and possibly culling them is a complex undertaking. Perhaps you’ll see something of yourself in my process.
I’m prone to flights of daydreaming and distraction at the best of times, but when I’m supposed to be tidying books? Heaven help me! All those ideas, adventures, life-changing worlds and words. . . .
I’ve been known to box up books, only to go back and rescue select titles. I keep doubles of some novels—because they’re that good and because it is a truth universally acknowledged that if you loan books, you rarely get them back.
Anyway, armed with fresh coffee, a multitude of multi-sized cardboard boxes, and a belly full of steely resolve, I headed to my miniature library.
I’d just gotten through my writing-related books, when the biggest killer of productivity, house-cleaning wishes, and de-junking desires hit me: an interesting thought. My brother had been sorting my Dad’s books and commented that you can learn a lot about people from their bookcases.
I found his theory interesting. So interesting that I lost several hours to perusing titles with an eye to what secrets my books might tell about my psyche, obsessions, and beliefs, instead of focusing on whether or not I would ever actually read or refer to them again.
A deer skull (complete with lower jaw and teeth) sits atop one row of books (Christianity and other faith and religion texts). I’m not sure what that says.
A bottle of wine lounges on its side, coming of age in the lofty company of modern literary fiction greats like Joy Kogawa, Barbara Gowdy, Wally Lamb, and Eden Robinson. Why am I storing a bottle of wine there? To make the classic authors a shelf above and a shelf below jealous? Perhaps. Also, it looks kind of pretty.
I have a lot of science fiction—Orwell, Bradbury, H.G. Wells, Asimov and Silverman, Heinlein, Robert J Sawyer. . . .
A full shelf homes titles by authors who are also personal friends. And another carries autographed works. And I have a small (but growing!) section with books that carry stories by me.
I have gads of Stephen King, the full Merrily Watkins series by Phil Rickman (highly recommended, by the way), Diana Gabaldon’s wonderful genre-bending Outlander series, and a myriad of other scary or scintillating tales. They hulk in the shadows, balancing the sweetness and light of my Jan Karon and Maeve Binchy books.
Although I parted with any kids’ books that were lame after my children grew up, I still have one full five-shelf case of “must keeps.”
My collection is roughly 1/5 non-fiction (but within that, a full shelf is devoted to poetry), with a higher concentration of writing craft and religious texts—but lots of history, social sciences, and philosophy, too.
What fascinated me most circles back to my original goal of pruning my collection. Weirdly, it’s not the best books I have the hardest time parting with. The story between the covers isn’t my only consideration—nor the information relayed, nor the style, humour, or power with which the author writes. Not even my firm “Will you ever read this again?” question actually determines whether I cull or not. No, what really hampers my ability to part with a book is the story within the story.
I bought this for the kids at that little bookstore when we were on holidays on the Island.
My aunt and I spotted this book at the same time. She let me have it, but I “owed” her.
This was the first book I read after my mom died.
Aw, this is the one Chris read to Christopher all the time!
Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse! My dad was obsessed with this forever.
And that—the notion that the story within a book is only part of the reason it keeps its spot when another, arguably far superior, might be pulled—was eye opening. I’ve long fought junk collecting because I know what a trap it can become. I had no idea that the psychology behind why I hold onto some books is similar to why some people can’t get rid of broken toys, old clothes, or boxes of knick-knacks they haven’t looked at in years.
Reading over reflections on my last library was inspiring and motivating. I’ll have to let you know when I have my new library in shape, though I suspect it will always be a work in progress—as every good library should be!
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“Ms. Bishop. In the Library. Redux,” by me, Ev Bishop, is a combination of new thoughts and old ones originally pondered in an essay called “Ms. Bishop. In the Library. With a Coffee Mug.” This version was published in the Terrace Standard, April 5, 2018 as my regular column “Just a Thought.”