On the other side of our room, two lower cabinets reside beneath a double set of bookshelves reaching to the ceiling. Bulging photo albums occupy the lower containers—pseudo antiques—as every picture we’ve taken in the last several years resides on a thumb-drive or disk. Above those cupboards however, six regularly-replenished double-rows of books line up. When it becomes necessary to stack paperbacks three-deep, we donate to the library, though without exception at purge time, I struggle. “Nope, I can’t get rid of that.”
I part with the books I’ve enjoyed with a yearning regret because letting them go seems less about releasing something that has entertained, and more like erasing history. This is a result of the fact that from the third shelf, I can pull out my yellowing copy of The Thornbirds and turn to page 34 where I first encountered the unique spelling of the name we chose for our daughter. The shelf below it holds The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy, in which I read (and re-read) a singular poem that triggered an initial comprehension of how words can conjure an image.
The eight books in the Anne of Green Gables series hold a place of honor, lumped between brass bookends we received as a wedding present—the books themselves a touching Christmas gift from my husband years ago. Those volumes transport me back to junior high school where they lifted me away when my only recourse was to grab a library pass to avoid an eighth-grade bully during study hall.
Leon Uris, Anita Shreve, James Carroll and John Irving live on those shelves too, along with my collection of hard-covers—My Friend Flicka, Robin Hood, Black Stallion, Heidi and Jayne Eyre, all liberated from my family library when my father moved into an assisted living center. Lined up beside a 1938 copy of Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow with my grandmother’s book-plate pasted on the inside cover, sits a 1935 edition of National Velvet, which I am always intrigued to see labeled with my grandfather’s name.
I have two books by Amy Wilensky, a writer who more than anyone in recent time encouraged me to practice this craft that brings me joy, side-by-side with more distant inspiration—a pink book of poems by Kathy Martin, a college friend and talented poet who passed away before our senior year. A gift from her parents, it waited on our chairs as we took our seats on graduation day.
All of these books and so many more, touch deep into my core and some day too soon, it will be impossible to add to this collection. For future generations the angst I feel now will be non-existent. The memories provoked by turning the pages of old books like those labeled in my grandparents' names, will drift away once E-Readers and E-books take over. In the meantime, when I read an honest-to-gosh, paper-and-cardboard edition of Home Safe, by Elizabeth Berg, an author that Carol, over at Carol’s Prints kindly recommended to me, I looked up at our bookshelves when I got to this:
“…She talked, too, about how books educate and inspire, and how they sooth souls—‘like comfort food without the calories,’ she said. She talked about the tactile joys of reading, the feel of a page beneath one’s fingers; the elegance of typeface on a page…Books aren’t loud enough; they’re not showy enough; they don’t move quickly enough; indeed they don’t move at all. The require stillness, reflection, imagination, and these things are out of step with the times.”
In my gut, I know that, like IPods and digital cameras, E-books will offer immediacy, ease of acquisition and their own welcome impact, minus a certain physical corner bending. Gazing at my overflowing bookshelves though, I imagine a yawning cavern of dusty shelf space—a place holder for the constant reminder of something we have lost.