Part of The Great Move (still yet to be completed) has included sorting my possessions. I never realized I had so much stuff!- and the largest category of things to be sorted is, of course, books. I didn’t make a proper count of them, but I estimate I have between twelve and fifteen hundred. And that’s after donating about a hundred to the local library. Medieval monks would weep with joy to have access to the sort of library that I’ve accumulated in less than thirty years, with very little money.
Most of these books will travel with me- one small box to come along immediately and the rest to be sent later, once I have a permanent address and space for them. Luckily, my father is being very understanding about this entire process, and is allowing me to leave a room full of boxes. Over time, he’ll send or bring me about forty linear feet of books and slightly less than that in shelves for them.
But there are also two or three rather large boxes of books that will stay at my father’s house for another few years, even after I’m settled out West. These are the children’s books that I’m saving for my own kids (that I don’t have yet). Any children of mine are likely to be voracious readers, and I suspect that, like my parents did for me, I’ll spend a lot of time scrambling to find sufficient quantity of books that are age-appropriate while being difficult enough for an advanced reader. These two or three boxes will serve as my buffer zone, my breathing space, if the supply of books in my house ever hits a bottleneck.
Most of these books were my favorites as a kid, and even if my kids aren’t as obsessed with horses or history, they might find something to their liking. The Saddle Club series was a favorite when I was seven or eight, and so were series like Dear America and The Royal Diaries. I got into the Redwall series when I was in middle school, but I don’t think any of those ended up in the box because they belong to my brother.
Then there are the perennial favorites. Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles are traveling with me; I find them a hilarious form of escapism even as an adult. And I stopped the sorting process for an hour or so when I found The Witch of Blackbird Pond, so I could reread it, sitting on the floor, surrounded by a mass of books (does anyone else do this? It’s a perpetual hazard of cleaning for me; I find a good book, get sidetracked, and come back to Earth an hour later with the clutter still glaring at me).
I even found children’s books that I’d bought as an adult. Johnny Tremain was one of these; I had never read it as a kid, heard it recommended by a zillion people, and decided to buy it, read it, and save it for my kids. I go through periodic bouts of suspicion that TPTB are editing the classics without telling the reading public, and end up buying paper copies of all sorts of things, just so I have a record of the original content. I’ve heard this is happening to the Nancy Drew series, for example, which makes me happy that I saved those.
And during the sorting process, one occasionally wonders, how did I end up with this? I found a pair of novelizations from Full House (the t.v. show from the 80s and 90s) and I have no idea where they came from. I never watched the show, and neither did anyone else in my family. Presumably, they were gifts from a now-forgotten benefactor, or my mom found them in a pile of free books (Mom had a great nose for a bargain) and gave them to me in desperation at a time when I was sans reading material (quelle horreur!). Child-me could be rather obnoxious when I had nothing to read.
Some of my reading choices were simply terrible. My Side of the Mountain was good, but its sequels are preachy beyond belief. I used to be more tolerant of awful books; even if it was bad, it was still something to read, but I’ve gradually moved away from that mindset. Life’s too short to read bad books.
My favorites usually had one thing in common: the message- if there was one- didn’t overshadow the story. I’ve been known to read message fiction- Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was one of my favorite books in my late teens, because it was so contrary to everything I’d been taught as a kid- but most of the time, I want my fiction to be entertaining, not preachy. Non-fiction is a different ball game, because it exists to inform the reader about a topic.
It sounds ridiculous to say that I’ve become a more discerning reader, given the size of my library, but it’s true. If I’d sorted my books a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to give any of them away. Every time I picked one up, I’d say to myself, “But I might want to read it again!” and it would go in the ‘keep’ pile. The local library can tell you that is no longer the case. I’ve also increased the proportion of non-fiction (mostly history) books in my collection. As a child, I found most non-fiction slightly boring, because there was no room for escapism- my primary reason for reading in the first place. Now that I think about it, that might explain why I found school in general to be about as interesting as watching paint dry.
Enough of my blathering. Tell me about you. What books were childhood favorites? Which ones stood the test of time, and which ones have been consigned to the ash-heap of history? How have you changed as a reader- not in terms of skill, because I’m sure most of you aren’t decoding words sound by sound anymore- but in terms of your taste in books?