In April we had an ice storm. For four days the electricity was off, and so was our sump pump, causing a flooded basement. We hauled two heavy rugs upstairs and the bottom two rows all a long the fourteen or so bookcases holding about 2,000 books from the approximately 6,000 we have accumulated. Of course the first reaction was: “We have to get rid of some of our books.” The next reaction was: “Which ones?” And then came the final answer: “None.”
Our books are more than just printed paper we’ve glanced through in the past. I look at a section of Barbara Pym novels and think of Helen, the long-time friend who first recommended that author to me. I see Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet (four books set in Alexandria, North Africa, all in the same time frame) and I remember the time I spent reading them while waiting for the birth of our first child. I recently tried re-reading one of the Alexandria Quartet books and found it didn’t appeal any more. But can I bear to throw them away? I think you know the answer.
One book I spared from my clear-out of books from a later-life re-entry into academia was on Statistics. Inscribed on the fly leaf were the words: “Dog food, butter, sugar,” a poignant reminder of the late-night slogging after children were in bed, and of the household shopping on the way from classes, as I hurried to be home before the end of school. And there are the doubles of books that my husband and I have, from our times in the same classes at university, both books carefully kept – so far.
The shelf of children’s books is a particular joy. They remind me of my children’s childhoods and also of episodes in my own. The Joyce Lankester series about the little girl Milly-Molly-Mandy in her English village with the careful drawings of people and her friends and of village maps, bring back the comfort I derived from them. When I first read these books, I had been sent away from home to friends for a few days, while my father was due to be arrested by the Japanese secret police. In different circumstances, they have given great joy to my children and grandchildren.
I have always enjoyed the carefree innocence of children’s books, and still turn to them. Our several editions of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (a book for both adults and children) remind me of a time when one child was at Kindergarten, one was having a nap, and the other was wide awake in the afternoon. So there was no nap for me. Instead, we sat up in bed, propped by pillows, and had a delightful time reading about the adventures of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad.
The stories by James Herriot, the veterinarian, made into the television series, All Things Bright and Beautiful, are reminders of happy holidays in Yorkshire with my English relatives. The whodunits remind me of returning to the working world when most of what I read then was murder mysteries. The collections of essays by Gregory Clark, much-loved war correspondent and newspaper columnist, remind me of our early days in Canada when we rented part of a house near his. From the sunroom where Gregory Clark worked, he used to wave out at Katherine and me as we went to and from the park. Gregory Clark said Katherine was the only child he’d seen who always looked back the way she had come over the side of the stroller, instead of forward.
Throw away memories of all these special people and times of our lives? – Never. Does anyone out there enjoy putting together the kind of white, three-level bookcase that “needs some assembly”?