Susan here, thinking there are So. Many. Books. in the world right now, including in my house—I’ll never find the time to read them all. And yet I keep acquiring them. They look so good and enticing on the shelves, and stacked in toppling piles here and there . . . they even look great in rows and rows in my Kindle . . . There’s a comfort in being surrounded by books, by that wealth of knowledge and thought and imagination, by the color and texture and scent of the pages and covers, by the promise they hold, and the memories that others keep for us. Regardless of whether or not we’ve read the books that surround us, as many of us know–there can never be too many books.
Yes. What Cicero said.
(The historian in me wants to add that he wasn't talking about books per se, but scrolls or early codices, so his quote might be closer to "A room without scrolls is like a body without a soul," which has a nice little ring to it.)
Some of the zillions of books I’ve read and reshelved could eventually be redirected to other hands and other homes, but mostly I'm not that efficient, and most I will keep. If I haven’t read them yet, and there are plenty of those, I maintain all good intentions to do that. And I’m visual enough that I need to see the Unread where they cluster on shelves or in baskets. A great many have been read or at least browsed and skimmed, so I know what’s there if I need it, particularly so for the research books, which I try to group in ways that I can find them again as needed–Scottish and British history, medieval, costumes, legends, that sort of thing.
Then there are the truly special reads—books that I’ve read that I don’t want to let go. If we ever downsize and have to pare the bookshelves, I’ll load up the e-reader with the books I cannot live without, to paraphrase Th. Jefferson.
Those particular books are the ones that hold deep personal meaning for me, memories and emotions, innermost ties to some realization that changed me or opened up some world to me, books that still hold fascination or a place of comfort that still feels so warm and loving that I will return to them again and again. Some I read in childhood, some later, some in the past year or less. You never know when a special book will appear in your life—it’s always unexpected, a book that connects so individually and intimately and uniquely to us that we want to hold it close and we want to share our joy in it too. Yet what captures one person may not click for the next reader.
I cannot live without books. –Thomas Jefferson
So I have a few questions for you today about your book collections—the Unread, the Read, the Special Reads.
I’ll answer first myself, best I can. We’re very, very fond of books here at Wenches, and none of us can live without them, in whatever form they take—and we love best to share that love. There’s always that chance we’ll find a new treasure for our shelves.
What book would you never, ever give up? The best you've read, or the most meaningful?
One book?! Oh wait I made up this question. Make that books.
Probably Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners, not only because of the lovely quality of the language and imagery, but because it was the first romantic novel that caught me as a young girl, and holds up with re-reading. And the gorgeous Ann of Cambray by Mary Lide (which inspired me to finally try writing a book, and a medieval–not to match or outdo, but to try to stretch to her standard). Another is The Hobbit–a book that contains an entire universe of story for a reader and a writer. There are nonfiction books too–Thomas Costain's chock-full, gossipy series on medieval England, Barrow's brilliant study of Robert Bruce, Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit, and more. . . .
See "books I could never give up," above. I'd need a box of books … all of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels, and plenty by Anya Seton, Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. I’d be happy too with the full set of Harry Potter books. For nonfiction, I'd toss in Seabiscuit and Costain, maybe Fred Anderson, whose studies of American history are impeccable. If I have to sit on that island avoiding the sun (I burn so bad), I want books that are clever, riveting, beautifully written. And I want a lot of them if I have to stay there!
Have you ever felt so connected to a character that you wished they were real?
Pippi Longstocking. As a kid, I wished I lived next door to her. When I was older, I deeply connected with Jo March in Little Women and with Jane Eyre. In the last few years, Flavia de Luce, that clever girl, surprised me with how much I have connected with her in Alan Bradley’s mystery series.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
Will you ever get through your reading pile or complete your book collection?