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10/11/2006

Book X-ray


Each time I rev up my iBook and click Safari, Arts & Letters Daily is the first page I see. I cannot imagine a better homepage as it feeds both my intellectual cravings and curiosity. Several days ago my eyes wandered to a [currently malfunctioning] article by Jay Parini on the right-hand side. My quirks paid off for once; I copied and pasted a particular quote by Parini, and sent it to myself via Gmail:

"What interests me about other people's books is the nature of their collection. A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul. It offers keys to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. Even how the books are arranged on the shelves deserves notice, even reflection. There is probably no such thing as complete chaos in such arrangements."

One of my proclivities is to meditate on others' bookshelves. If you invite me into your home, please know I will be looking at your books. When I visit my parents, I spy new tomes on my Mom's nightstand, their coffee table, or collectibles she stashed in "my" bedroom closet. While single, Johnny invited me over to his immaculate bachelor pad, and not only did he prepare Indian food while the Bulgarian Women's Choir sang in the background, but I peeked at his black bookshelves: science fiction, theology, fiction, politics, humor, and boxes of comic books at the foot of his bed. Some of my favorite books are located in Aunt Denise's study, windows revealing her tranquil backyard, the perfect tree, and twittering birds. Her books are similar to my own interests, and if not, they pique my curiosity enough to jot down the title in a notebook to research later. After Papaw died, I gazed at his books and hymnals; my Mom caught me in the act and made sure I kept a few. I even enjoy viewing Amazon wish lists. What do they desire? What is their intrigue?

Naturally, the quote above resonated in my brain. I agree with Jay Parini. I believe book collections are Aaron to our Moses, speaking when we cannot; offering our passions to others by way of slick spines and artful dustjackets. Johnny and I don't have a definite book-arranging scheme, but in our forthcoming house we plan to arrange books by subject and author, and my books will reside in a promised writing room though I will share. At the moment, all of our books rest on IKEA Billys except for a small collection on an old bookshelf the color of honey, adjacent to my desk in the bedroom. These books share a secret of my soul. Inspire me to improve my writing because the book was fabulous. Must be read very soon, and should have been read long ago. Serve as mental Post-its to cook a recipe, practice poetry, never forget my grandfather's grandeur, de-tox our home, never forget what I learned in the book's pages, etcetera.

The uppermost shelf is bare; Harley Cat jumps onto that ledge to propel himself atop the black armoire. Each end of the second shelf holds books stacked horizontally:

The Psalms - The Grail Translation.
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset.
A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
Poemcrazy by Susan G. Wooldridge.
NOON journal 2006.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
The Prymer by Robert E. Webber.
A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher.
The Africa News Cookbook by Tami Hultman.
Against Gravity by Farnoosh Moshiri.
Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala.
For the Time Being by Annie Dillard.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.
Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard.
The Annie Dillard Reader.
The Fruit of Her Hands by Nancy Wilson.
The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris.
Little Girls in Church by Kathleen Norris.
A Hundred White Daffodils by Jane Kenyon.
Return to Good & Evil: Flannery O'Connor's Response to Nihilism by Henry T. Montgomery and Marion Edmondson III.
New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver.

Each end of the third shelf also holds books stacked horizontally with a vertical selection in between. The highlights:

How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher.
Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr.
A Room of Her Own by Virginia Woolf.
My Antonia by Willa Cather.
1984 by George Orwell.
The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
The Death of Adam by Marilynne Robinson.
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.
A Continuous Harmony by Wendell Berry.
Papaw's Himnario Bautista.
Herself by Madeleine L'Engle.
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad.
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis.
Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill, including Papaw's crocheted bookmark where he left off reading - page 272.

So, what does this slice of my vast book collection tell you about my soul? Temperament? Intellect? My way of being in the world?

If you share a literary slice, I will try to reciprocate my thoughts.

3 comments:

Hotwire said...

you have insipred me to do a similar post. awesome job!

i loved 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' and i have 'Beasts of No Nation' in the to be read pile.

Chris said...

Two comments: impressed to see M. L'Engle there...she's an amazing woman! And...what does it say when I am saying, haveit, have it, readit, haveit while scanning the list? You can never have too many books!

Beckye said...

We went over to one of your favorite haunts, Book People, today just for you!

Sometime you'll have to come peruse our shelves. Well, at least some of them. We have books in every bedroom, too, and even under our waterbed! Someday I hope to get enough shelves to get them all organized and displayed! :)