I’m torn on the idea of using books as trophies. If this were the thirteen hundreds and books were like cars–rare, elegant and a statement about one’s station in life–I could possibly understand it a little bit better. But a book on a shelf isn’t being read, and to me that’s not unlike a baby crying in a crib, begging to be be held and cuddled. Some things are created to be interacted with and reacted to. Books and babies and pets and dinner are all things that suffer when neglected.
I used to have shelves loaded with books, and the overflow that wouldn’t fit on the shelves ended up in boxes, in stacks along the wall, scattered under the bed. Our house had books the way some houses have dust bunnies. (Ok. Our house has dust bunnies too.) I don’t know why the philosophical change happened, but once I started sending novels overseas to soldiers in Afghanistan I began to see books as the blood of the mind and necessarily to be kept in circulation. What books I didn’t ship to the soldiers I gave away to housesitters and party guests. You couldn’t enter my house without having a book pressed into your hands. Funnily enough, that all happened before my body began to rebel against holding the bound books and turning pages.*
Now that I have a Kindle I can’t circulate books. That bums me out because I’m bothered by not being able to say “here, I loved this. You try it and see if you love it too.” Instead of sharing joy, telling people about books becomes a sort of financial obligation I’m foisting upon them. I find that I recommend fewer reads because of this. I don’t want to be telling people how they should spend their money.
I’m going into all of this because in this week’s Entertainment Weekly there is an article about a book which illustrates (?) the “permanent shelves” of prominent authors. It’s one of those coffee table proceeds-to-charity thing and I’m not sure why you buy it instead of reading the eight dozen internet articles that have essentially the same information. I mean, really, did you NOT know that Stephanie Meyer loves the Book Of Mormon? Do you need to spend $15 for a pretty drawing of The Book Of Mormon next to Jane Eyre?
The article did get me thinking about the books I’ve kept and why, as well as the books I’ve rebought on Kindle. What is it about a certain story that begs to be kept close by? In my case a brief analysis shows that all of the books I love have a strong sense of faith–not necessarily Christianity per se, but that engine of belief in the unseen that compels one to triumph over the tyranny of sorrow. My most beloved books also have a strong sense of family. I was raised in a big family and now live in a very small one, so it’s nice to find other big families to spend time with, even if they’re twisted Lannisters or goofy Weasleys. My Permanent Shelf changes over time, just as I change over time. Heidi was the book I loved as a young girl, but it’s been largely supplanted by other, newer-to-me stories. I don’t love Jane Eyre as much as I did twenty years ago; twenty years ago I hadn’t heard of George RR Martin. So to call it my Permanent Shelf is a bit of a misnomer. But there are books that drive me and comfort me and that I like to have within reach for the times I need that space. Right now the list is:
- Harry Potter
- A Song Of Ice And Fire
- The Curse Of Chalion
- Pillars Of The Earth
- The Physician
- The Kingkiller Chronicles
This isn’t to say that I don’t like or appreciate other books; these are my comfort reads. That’s the only type of book I keep on a permanent basis.
*Now that I think about it, turning pages is as much or more of a problem than holding a regular book. I was wondering why I went off the paperbacks because they aren’t that heavy. I picked one up this morning and realised that the finger contortions required to turn pages just didn’t happen for me. So there’s that mystery solved.