I have heard that nature abhors a vacuum.
I have seen that nature abhors an empty book shelf.
Just over a year ago, I committed to reading all the books that I’d accumulated; I realized I had a situation. I’d go to a bookstore, or a book sale, or a second hand shop–and I would find books by authors I wanted to read, on subjects that were near to my heart, or that just struck me as whimsical and wonderful. I would bring them home, rearrange my shelves, and give those books a warm place to rest.
Then I would go to the library and the new books would beckon. A friend had told me how much she enjoyed The Goldfinch–and there it was, standing proudly on the display ledge. And in the non-fiction section, there was a book I’d just read about in the New York Times Book Review, a book whose topic touched or intrigued me.
I would come home from the library, sheepish and furtive, my canvas bag filled with things to read.
Because the library books have a due date, they claim priority. I would read them–read in all time’s nooks and crannies, hoping to digest everything quickly so I could then get back to my owned books, the books I had shelved.
I was lucky, usually, if I squeezed one shelved book in between I coming home from the library with whole new batches of urgency reads. And then of course, weekends would come, and my son Jim would beg us to take him to a Half Price Books store. (Jim is a young adult with autism; his special interests are books and movies. His need to get to the book store was as urgent to him as those library reads were to me.)
So, we’d take him to the bookstore. And there, on the clearance shelf, I would see this incredible buy–a book on my ‘to-read’ list, a book for a mere two dollars…
Finally, of course, the day arrived that there was no space left on the shelves. I stacked books on tables and desks–artfully, I hoped. But surfaces are limited, and I finally came to the realization that we were at a crisis point.
Something had to be done.
I went through the shelves with a mean, unfeeling, and impartial eye. Anything that I did not REALLY, REALLY want to read went into the ‘take to Half Price Books’ bag.
And then I started this blog, which I call ‘Shelved’,–the goal of which is to make me read all the books that are shelved and waiting. I wasn’t going to publicize this space; I would use it to quietly ruminate on the books I’d accumulated as I read each one. There was a reason I acquired that book, and I wanted a forum where I could reflect on how the book intersected with my life.
If I read one book a week, I reasoned, I’d go through fifty-two books a year, and eventually I would move from the dining room shelves to the living room shelves. I put each book I finished on a shelf I emptied in the family room, and from there I determined if it was a keeper or or a ‘move along-er’.
And you know what? The plan was working. I organized and read through stacks of books. Despite Christmas and birthdays, gift books and gift cards, despite books so strongly recommended I couldn’t pass them by and books I needed to read for professional reasons, my backlog was diminishing. And I was not just plowing through the books, I was reflecting on them. What does this remind me of? I’d ask myself. When did I ‘meet’ this author, and why was there such an impact? What common experience do I share with this protagonist? Do I recognize someone in one of these characters?
That reflection deepened my experience as the self-imposed obligation to blog about my weekly reading kept me on track.
The stacks of books on top of the cubbies melted away. I was able to create a ‘to-read’ shelf in the little book case, and I read a whole lot of those books, too. In fact, I cleared a shelf and then some.
“I’m reading my shelved books!” I thought, and I felt great satisfaction.
And then, of course, is when it happened.
Terry asked me, last week, if I’d help her ready an office for our wonderful new colleague, Eva. In the office to be sorted was a treasure trove of books. They are mostly non-fiction works by or about people who’ve faced a great challenge. They are highly recommended reads that may or may not be used as a common book for a newly created honors program.
Those books are now in MY office. Soon I’ll tote them home to read.
Also, I am involved in a community read initiative, a hopeful approach to bringing the community together with books as the binder. Our first author will be Zane Grey, because Zane Grey is my city’s native son. Working on this project, I’ve met many, many wonderful people. One of those, Rosanne, the vice president of the Zane Grey West Society, sent me a lovely packet containing her edited version of Betty Zane, Grey’s first book. Betty Zane has direct historical connections to my new hometown. Rosanne included a couple of copies of the ZGWS journal, too.
I’m going to read the Zane Grey books Rosanne sent, along with Riders of the Purple Sage (I have the anniversary edition–that, at least, IS a shelved book), and I need also to get a copy of Thomas Pauley’s biography of the writer.
And I’m reading Dr. Terry O’Banion’s book about learning colleges for the 21st century for a college leadership program I’m involved with.
Oh. And then my mother-in-law came to visit, and we took her to Half-Price Books (which she loved), and there, on the clearance shelf, was Volume One of Mark Twain’s Autobiography. THREE BUCKS! Can you believe it?
And here’s the thing: if Zane Grey was the scion of my new, adopted town, Mark Twain was the scourge of the town where I grew up, a place that tender writer-man refers to as “a stud farm for idiots.” I’ll read the autobiography in tangy, tart bits and chunks, interspersing it with more fluid, sweeter reads.
But–with bargains and treasured finds, obligatory books and required reading that’s piled up,–suddenly, the stacks of books were threatening to topple again. I had to organize them; I had to make a plan. I had to get my reading under control.
So what did I do?
I took my son to the library, and there, on the shelf, was Anita Diamant’s new book, The Boston Girl. There was no way I could pass that up. And, just for ballast, or balance, or WHATEVER, I also borrowed a book called The Gluten-Free Revolution. I’ve just discovered my blood sugar levels are way too high, and my reading tells me processed carbs (begone, white bread!) may be the primary culprit.
So I came home, and my husband’s car was in the port. “Huh. He’s early,” I thought, and I clutched my canvas bag to my chest and tried to sneak it by him.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Oh,” I said, “just—stuff.”
“Are those library books?”
“None of your booojwah!” I barked.
“I thought,” said Mark, “you were giving up library books for the home reading interim?”
“Mwah wah mwat mwa mwa,” I replied sarcastically, in my best Charlie Brown grown-up voice.
He sighed. “You’re hopeless,” he said. “You know that, don’t you? You’re a regular bookhead.”
He’s right. I need a program.
Hi. My name is Pam, and I bring home books.