Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Kingdom for a Bookcase

The problem with Ted and Colleen is that they each thought they were saving the other.
I unpacked my books yesterday. For years we have not had the space to have them out but suddenly, now--a built in glass encased bookshelf, 30" deep. Five large plastic containers of Shakespeare and Aeschylus, Lorrie Moore, Ellen Gilchrist, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Eudora Welty, The Norton Anthology of This and The Oxford Anthology of That. (God, how I love that thin onion skin paper.) I unpacked the books I have read and the books I meant to read but never did so now I just pretend to have read them (I'm talking to you now Aeschylus). I unpacked books that I have loved and those that I have written in. I unpacked books that I have written, mismatched journals of varying sizes, my handwriting round and tilted and large.
I have known some deeply religious people and while I have envied them their faith nothing good ever came of any of them.
And then there is this: me writing about Puck from The Real World, San Francisco. Phone numbers of people I am no longer friends with scratched across the inside of notebooks. Dates and reminders, $213.47, 924-7639, I don't know who or why but at some point in 1993 it was important enough to write down.
Bryan doesn't understand why it's so important to me to have my books out. It's not as if you're going to read them again. And he's right. I probably won't read them again. Or ever (Aeschylus). But as I unpacked them from their plastic containers I felt a lightness, a truth. Something right and genuine, as if maybe for the past five, seven, ten years now since graduate school I have packed away something of myself in hermetically sealed plastic boxes from The Container Store. Oh, not to worry--the books and I were safe from moisture but there we were all the same. Henry Miller on top of Anais Nin, my journals about me at 21 smashed beneath Walt Whitman. They pour and they pour and they exhale away!
But here we are now, out in the world. Who knows what happened to Puck? Better yet, who cares? I sit on the floor before the bookcase and thumb through onion skinned paper reading the notes I wrote in the thin margins of Beowulf. I was the type of girl who wrote in red ink. By fighting monsters we surpass the limits of date and history. I wish I knew that girl now. I would like to be friends with her if only to tell her to stop worrying about some things. And to worry more about others. I would very much like to borrow her red pen to keep writing, never to stop.
Whatever happened to Ted and Colleen? Did they ever save each other, or did their naive heroism ruin them both? I will never know because that's all I wrote. Sometime in 1993, or maybe 1995. The start of an idea, of a book or a story that never got written. Just the first sentence, something that I liked, I think, although really, who knows what I was thinking, writing on the floor while watching Party of Five. In the end, maybe it is Ted and Colleen who will save me, my kingdom for a bookshelf, my house for a pen.


Vanessa said...

I feel the same way about my books. They're a reminder of where I've been in life. Reading the notes I've left behind always makes me smile. And whenever I need an escape from my daily life, each one is there to take me to a different world. They were one of the first things I unpacked when I got back to Sweden.

Maggie May said...

That is a great opening line for a short story or novel.

Geordy and Pete said...

totally understand.
have carted masses of books from house to house.
they good for the soul.
you get the good from them by osmosis.
welcome back

Robin said...

I am so happy for you. I am nowhere near the lover of words you are, but I can't imagine having my books in storage for half a decade. So, so sad. One more hatch mark for the "everything happens for a reason" list.

Jules said...

I carry books around like a security blanket. I don't leave the house without one or two. I have several in my living room. I have an entire wall in my office. I have 6-7 on my nightstand. Books are my accessory of choice.

Except the bathroom. I draw the line at bathroom libraries.

Claire said...

I spent an hour and a half in the public library, just browsing for nothing in particular. I love to read books I've read before and get lost all over again in that world, or the world of my life that existed when I first read the book. Words have such power! Yours, included.

Michelle in KY said...

I think that you wake up in the morning and write directly for me, to me.
What a gift you have...seriously!
You and I are on the same planet.
Who was I then? Boy, I'd like to be friends with that girl I use to know. Although I didn't know her then. Too busy...not mature enough probably for reflection.
Who am I now? A wife, someone's Mother? Identifiable names to everyone but me...sometimes! I love being a Mother and a wife, don't get me wrong, I just sometimes wonder where I, the person, the individual went. Oh, to stop the petty worrying and to worry about the stuff that matters, truly matters.
You're always speaking directly to me and I Thank You for that!
I hope that you never stop writing and I am so glad that your now have a home for your pen (and laptop)! Welcome Home Susannah, Welcome Home!

mosey along said...

I'm a book packrat too. I have friends who can't understand why I like to read and re-read old favorites but they are like old friends. Then again, I occasionally bring home a new one because I think it looks good in the bookstore, read it while thinking it sounds awfully familiar, and later discover that I already have two copies on my shelf. I blame it on childbirth.

I love that bookshelf in your new pad...

Sarah Danielle: Jeune Marie said...

This is the same reason I keep a falling apart (old) copy of the bell jar in my nightstand. Just can't let it go even though I will likely never read it again.

Elizabeth Joy said...

I own literally 1,000+ books, stuffed into bookshelves 2-deep, in boxes in the attic, even in my entertainment center drawers. I justify it because I'm an author, so I convince myself the addiction for buying books is just a good work habit, but the fact is that I haven't read half of them. I just can't pass by a bookstore without going in and lusting after all the cover blurbs, and somehow they make their way into my basket.

I'd love an opportunity to look through them all again, because I know I must be missing a gem that's hidden somewhere on my shelves, waiting to be read. I'd almost be tempted to put them all in boxes just so I could unpack them and set them on the shelves. But in a way it's like X-Mas decorations--Putting them up is so rewarding, but taking them down sucks ass.

You did inspire me, though, to stand in front of my shelves and gaze lovingly at the spines. Oh, Anne Tyler and A.S. Byatt, how I looove you...

Kirsten @ Apotheca said...

I notice that rereading old journals always weirds me out, but I am a serious packrat when it comes to books. Even Aeschylus -- The Oresteia is actually really good, and worth a look. Unlike Puck, who was a total wiener.