Bonjour mes chers lecteurs ! Yes, it’s been a really long time since I have posted anything. Désolée. It seems that the summer has just begun and yet it is almost over. In any case, I have not completely deserted my writing, even if I have not published anything of late. I did something a bit rash, and I decided to take on the “Super Challenge” over at Yeah Write. I did this mostly because each entrant received some writerly feedback on their essays just for entering. I got a topic of “Pets” and a 1000 word limit. I surprised myself and made it to the second round! This is the essay I wrote for the first round, which I am now allowed to publish 🙂
“On the Care and Feeding of Books”
When I was little, I was severely allergic to dogs and cats, so I couldn’t have real pets. Instead, I made pets out of my interests. In my opinion, a “pet” is just something you cherish and nurture. I had pet musical instruments, pet records (yes, I mean vinyl!), pet stuffed animals, but most of all, I had pet books. I believe that this first love has fueled all the other passions in my life because for me, books have always been the key that unlocks the rest of the world.
I really started my whole life with books. I was adopted at the age of two days, and when my mom brought me home, one of the women’s groups she belonged to had a “book shower” for us. I think that some of the books I have saved from my childhood came from this shower. I don’t have children, but I kept some of those books because of the memories they evoke.
My mother always had a book nearby, and she taught me from an early age that books were to be treated with respect and that reading was a desirable thing to do. So I started reading when I was really young; I think I was reading two and three-letter words by the time I was two years old. I remember reading real books at the age of four. Upon arriving at kindergarten class, I was shocked that most of my classmates could not read. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t.
I have always surrounded myself with books, and have many fond memories of the “summer reading program” at the local library when I was a child. Each summer they had a theme, and each child would get a sticker or something like that on a poster in the library for each book read during the summer. I loved to fill up those posters! My mom was on the library board back then, and I counted the librarian as a friend of the family as well as a teacher. He gave me several of the children’s books that I cherish most, like Edward Lear’s “The Jumblies.” I can, to this day, quote the chorus of that illustrated poem. “Far and few, far and few, are the lands where the Jumblies lived…” sigh.
I admit that I was book crazy for a very long time. A couple of years ago, I began to realize that not all books are pets. Pet books are special, you see. I was running out of shelf space, and it just so happened that I read Marie Kondo’s best-seller, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” at that time. Because of her book, I made a decision: I would purge my bookshelves. I finally came to the conclusion that there are certain books that need to be kept, cherished and nurtured, and others that can be read in e-book format so they do not need shelf space.
After all that, my bookshelves are still full, but now they only contain my “pets.” Mostly. There is still one bookcase that I will “purge” very soon, but for the most part, before letting “stray” books follow me home, I now ask myself, “Could I read this in e-format? Is the paper copy in some way distinctive? Is it old, or rare? If so, does it have an endearing quality that merits shelf space in my home?” Yes, books still come home with me, still more often than my husband would like, but less often than before. I get eye-rolls from him about this, and sometimes I even try “sneaking” books into the house by mail when he isn’t looking. (Thank you, on-line used booksellers, for fueling my habit!)
There are still books that merit extreme measures. I recently lost my father, and my mother has understandably decided to move out of the house that I grew up in. On the top shelf of the built-in shelves in the family room, there is a complete set of Harvard Classics; I believe it is the 1914 edition. They belonged to my maternal great-grandparents. I cannot say that I have ever read them, but my mother read them all as a young girl when she would visit her grandparents. Now, she is downsizing, and she does not want to take them to her “retirement apartment.” I have purchased a special bookcase for them, and she is bringing them to me very soon. My dear husband is being very kind about the addition of these pets to our home.
In addition to these treasures, while perusing my mother’s bookshelves, I found children’s books and coloring books that had belonged to my father when he was very young, and a Harper’s magazine from 1885 which must have belonged to his grandparents. Those came home with me too.
My husband and I will be traveling to France in the fall, and I think that there will be some French books, probably old and interesting, hopefully ones that people have written in or left interesting bookmarks in, that will stow away in my valise. Leisurely browsing the bouquinistes stalls along the Seine is one of my not-so-secret pleasures in life! It’s usually hard to get pets through customs, but luckily for me, la douane française (French customs) will not ask me questions about these. They will live on my “French shelf” where the books have recently begun to casually stroll onto the next shelf in a very “French” way.
I picture myself one day as a little old lady surrounded by towering bookshelves and little else. I hope that in the meantime I will meet someone who will want to take care of my pets when I am gone.