Do you see the bookshelf in this picture? The one behind the children, one of whom is jumping in various states of dress and the other is manhandling an octopod?
That bookshelf, let me tell you of its significance. It was purchased at the IKEA in Hartford, Connecticut with our wedding money. We had returned from honeymoon and moved into our new lovenest and discovered a clear lack of organization in our abode. I lovingly organized all and sundry books and photo frames and created a thoughtful assemblage of possessions on display. This is the third home in which the bookshelf has lived and it continues to serve us well. It continues to be an emblem of our life together, our books living side by side just as we, husband and wife and daughter and son, live side by side in a harmonious and orderly fashion. Sometimes. Occasionally.
You might also note that the books are arranged by color and not by author or title because I am more inclined to know whether The Accidental Asian had a yellow book jacket rather than it was written by Eric Liu (synaesthesia much?).
The aesthetic of my system is not bad but I was recently convicted about the real problem in my method.
As I was dusting off the bookshelves this week, I began looking at all of the books that I knew I would never read again. Naturally, I didn’t want to let them go quite yet. I know many people have this same reflex. But what if I need to go back and see what Joan Didion says about grief? And what if I give away this Curtis Sittenfeld first edition and it becomes, like, super valuable someday?
What really pained me, however, was my resistance to sell or gift books or donate them because of their utility as items that Say Something About Me. The point of a library is to enjoy it and lend it, no? Yet apparently I want to hoard books because they indicate…what? That I am well-read. That I am familiar with the canon of certain authors. That I have made a living teaching others how to analyze certain texts, and this is my trophy case of works upon which I can expound in a classroom.
Are we called to build totemic shelves of books that are a nod to Who We Are? Yeah, I think we are called to store up treasures in Heaven, by and large. I seem to remember something about not being able to take it with you, that a good name is worth more than rubies, that nobody at our funeral is going to be remarking about what an impressive collection of tomes we had amassed in this life.
From now on, I am going to do my utmost to be purging myself of these books lest I retain them to impress only myself.
I dropped off a dear Boston mama friend at a writer’s conference today. I was so happy for her visit wherein we solved all the problems of the world in 24 hours and covered lots of eating and laughing ground to boot. En route to the conference, I told her to e-mail her publisher to make sure she had enough copies of her chapbook on hand. She was going to do it later, but I told her to do it right then and there to put her mind at ease.
As I saw her off at the conference to go write and read and overdose on poetry with literary luminati, I was so so happy for her. I felt a small pang of envy that I wasn’t going to be staying on a college campus and writing my hands off and sleeping in a room with no bunkmates interrupting my sleep just like she.
But my friend Anna has a book that actually says Something About Her. She wrote it. It’s awesome.
I am not there yet. I hope to be. For now, though, I am happy for my friend and happy for me and my life and my children and my bookshelves. The shelves are now slightly less bulky, but the rainbow effect is still gratefully in tact.
Anna, Baby Girl and I, cha cha cha-ing in #CHA
Anna met the King in Nashville, natch