Bookcase of Memories

My son does not understand why I have shelves and shelves of books that I have not read. I admit, there are a lot. I’m pushing 900 unread books. He immediately reads any books he gets – at the bookstore, in the car, standing in the middle of the driveway with one foot in the air in a stalled step – and he rereads and rereads and rereads. On Christmas morning, if he opens a book package, he stops tearing up presents like a rabid wolverine and sits down and reads. An unread book is a situation to be remedied quickly, not something to accumulate.

And don’t even get him started on the 1100 or so books that I have already read, but keep all the same. He disapproves mightily (and hypocritically, since he rereads everything).

I don’t think that books mean the same thing to me as they do to other people. They are not disposable items to be whipped through, passed on, and forgotten. They are not challenges to conquer or trials to endure. My books are cherished and savored, and that includes letting them proudly shine on my shelves for years, read and unread, shoulder to shoulder, mapping out my life and my memories.

The thing is, I remember where and when I got every book that I own. I remember who I was when I purchased them, and what was happening in the world – my world, and the larger world around me. I remember the book that intrigued me and I guiltily purchased with my “thank you and goodbye” gift money when I quit my time and soul-sucking nanny job in college. I remember the summer that everything seemed to be Japanese – my book choices, art museums, quilting fabric, and so on. I remember which books caught my attention in the Washington, D.C. airport bookstore on a business trip with some admin and teachers from my school, and which plane reading I recommended for my principal, and the book that his wife started on the same plane and then sent to me. I remember which books were discussed at the conference where I was given a teaching award, and which books were gifts from the foundation that presented it. I remember which authors I discovered when I inherited a summer reading list for a 9th grade honors English course, and those which I discovered in graduate school. I remember which book I loaned to a friend, and she moved out of the country and I never saw the book again. I also remember which book she recommended to me as her favorite of all time. I know which book was gifted by my second best friend in high school, who went to the store to buy me a copy and shoved it into my hands the next day because I was not taking her up on her reading recommendation (given only a few days before) fast enough. I remember which book is the first one that I read to my son, and which book was the first one I read to myself when I was tiny. I remember which book caused me to cross a stormy strait on an island ferry while I was on crutches because I could not wait a moment longer to read it.

You get the idea. While others may see books as a means of learning, or escape, or a drudgery forced upon them by annoying teachers, I know they are a part of my life, my memory, and my soul. They are a map to me.

Now, if you will excuse me, I think I will go and read.

5 thoughts on “Bookcase of Memories

  1. I have a terrible memory, but I can remember so much through looking at my books! I hadn’t realized before reading your post what a good memory trigger they are for me. Books as a map of our lives–really a gorgeous metaphor.

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  2. Oh i love it. I too have many books that I haven’t read, and I have an overcrowded house that screams to declutter, but books. Books are not to be de-cluttered because they are not clutter. Books represent magic and imagination and love and fear and possibilities. Books are treasures and I tell children to treat books like they are special because they are. I try not to talk too much about the ways that I love books because I know the world will see it as odd. But can you truly be poor if you have books?

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    1. Exactly! Books are not clutter at all! Back when Marie Kondo first became a big deal, a friend told me that her book insisted that you declutter your bookshelves, so I have always avoided The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

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  3. You are the epitome of a reader! I love how you’ve cultivated a reading life in your son, albeit a different kind. 🙂 This line is perfectly crafted- “My books are cherished and savored, and that includes letting them proudly shine on my shelves for years, read and unread, shoulder to shoulder, mapping out my life and my memories.” I can picture it.

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