My husband and I are moving from the house where we have lived for 25 years, and where we raised our children. One of the many revelations I’ve had during this process is exactly how many books we own! Every room of our house is filled with books. There are boxes and boxes and boxes of books. Cookbooks and reference books and picture books and textbooks and novels and memoirs and nonfiction and self-help books. We even have a box of antique books that came from my husband’s Scottish forebears — very old, very musty leather-bound editions of Shakespeare and Irish poetry.
In order to cut down on the volume of books that go with us, we have gone through every shelf, assessing the books one by one. Do we love them enough to move them? There are five categories of books that get to stay:
1.) Books we expect to refer to for information. This pile includes cookbooks, a gardening book, hiking books, a dictionary, a guide to Paris, and books I might use as examples in my work.
2.) Books we have not yet read but want to. This category comes from the fact that I not only love to read books, but I also love to BUY books. I love having a giant to-read pile. Apparently, the rest of my family has adopted this practice, too. There are also to-read books we pass from one family member to another — books the girls read in college and pressed into our hands, books that made my husband LOL that make me want to see what was so funny or what he thought was so funny.
3.) Books we want to keep for future grandchildren in the family. This is a big category. This includes everything from beloved board books to the first book one of the girls memorized, from the books my husband and I read to the kids at night — the Little House books, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter — to the books they first read to themselves. There may be (gulp) 25 boxes in this category alone.
4.) Books whose content we love and may want to return to. These are books we enjoyed reading and might want to read again one day. They include novels we liked, nonfiction that was so meaty and layered we know we would learn more with a second pass, a book we read in college that would be interesting to read again.
5.) Books that made a mark on our heart. This is the biggest category by far. Because love can take many forms. Love can mean a book that hit you at exactly the right time and helped you feel less alone in the world. Love can mean a book that swept you away. That helped you see who your dad really was. That helped you understand something about death. That helped you articulate something about your work or your life. You might never read these books again, but you want to own them, to see them on the shelf, to have them in your life.
What is most interesting about the books that made a mark on my heart is that I don’t often remember a single specific thing about them — in some cases, I don’t even remember what they are about. What I remember, though, is how they made me feel.
The two books in the photo above, for example, are the first books I remember loving as an independent reader. I have not cracked them open for at least 25 years, but here’s what I remember about them:
Riders of the Pony Express. This is a middle-grade novel about a moment in American history. I believe I bought it at a Scholastic book fair at school. From the perspective of today, it is no doubt wildly offensive to native American peoples. What I remember about it was that it took me somewhere else. It took me on a journey to another place and time. I vividly remember feeling the intense tension of the riders as they tried to get the mail through to the Western territories. I mean, I felt it. I read holding my breath. I read with a flashlight under the covers, turning the pages as I desperately tried to find out if they made it or not. My family often traveled by car through these same environments, as we drove to run the rivers my dad loved, so I knew this land and the harshness of the desert. This book put me there. I remember thinking it was a magical alchemy — that I could be in my bedroom yet be somewhere else. I believe this was where my love of books took root.
Tennis to Win. I have no idea how I got this book or where I got it, but I remember devouring it, studying it, immersing myself in it. I began to play tennis when I was in fourth grade and by the time I was in middle school was playing tournaments. This book gave me a way to learn about the sport I love in a way that had to do with my brain and not my body. It allowed me to think about tennis, not just play it. This, too, was a magical alchemy for me: the idea that you could strategize and plan and prepare in your brain. It was written by a great player who was often on television in those days, and I remember feeling amazed that she was speaking directly to me. She was trying to help me. It seemed as if she knew me. I went on to play tennis in high school and in college, but what has stayed with me the longest from this book is nothing about hitting a forehand or a serve: it’s the fact that you can organize material in a book to impact someone else’s life. You can pass on wisdom and knowledge in the way you write and speak to them. What stayed with me is what I bring to my work as a book coach every day.
I wrote these memories without even cracking these books open. The power they have had over my life is enormous. They are among my most precious possessions.
I give thanks to the writers who wrote them. And I give thanks that I have been able to read so many books since I first read these. And I give thanks that I have made a career in service of helping other writers write books that might impact people in this same way.
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