Sometimes unread books on a bookshelf are as good as a diary entry to jog the memory. You look at the spine of a novel you bought twenty years ago at the Strand bookstore in New York. You were with so and so that day. You hadn’t seen them for a long time. They didn’t want to go to the store but did you a favor when you said you only needed a few minutes to see if that book was there. You’d read very positive reviews. Later you had good pastrami sandwiches for lunch and talked… You’ve never felt the urge to read the book although maybe one day you still will. But having it up there on the shelf, well, that’s something else. A reminder, a paper souvenir – the pages a little yellow and bent now after all this time — of a small good day in your life. – Jon Carroll, a writer in SF
Re-reading this made me remember how I have always kept my books, my most precious possessions– even if they are on the shelf, I know they are there, and I go to them. When I first was out on my own, I had few possessions… some record albums and my books the ones I most treasured, ones from UCLA among them of course.
I have a slim paperback I got in Paris (Hemingway’s A Movable Feast) and a poetry magazine from London with a long poem by Octavio Paz (“Piedra de Sol”) that I loved from the moment I saw it there. I still have a weathered copy of Catcher in the Rye, which was one of the first books I remember my mom reading to me after I was (somewhat) grown up. She loved that book, it made her laugh and she made Holden Caufield come alive for me. She always read to us as kids: Winnie the Pooh, Babar the Elephant, Fairy Tales, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Jungle Book.
I have the books I read when I was pregnant, a wonderful old copy of Gone with the Wind, which I read in high school (the first novel I ever read), Michener’s Hawaii, that I read one whole summer during day visits to the beach, and Clan of the Cave Bear that my mom gave me when my kids were small, inscribing it with the note that she “hoped I would have time to read it!” They all remind me “of a small good day in my life”–as the quotation above says. Or, to use my own words, they are reminders of my life — every place I’ve been, my dreams, my childhood and my growing up — and the joy of passing it on to my children.
a willow of crystal, a poplar of water, a tall waterjet that the wind arches,
a tree deep-rooted though it dances,
the path of a river which curves, goes forward, bends back on itself, turns circle
and is always arriving… – excerpt from the Octavio Paz poem “Piedra de Sol”