By Rose Ottosen
I thought I had decided to become a minimalist. I was delusional, apparently.
In this stage of my life, I crave order and simplicity. I want my house to look like the inside of a home decorating magazine—a place where I can move from room to room without distractions taking me on mental detours. I want a sanctuary with eye candy in every corner. No dust bunnies. No cobwebs. No disheveled shelves of books. However, recently, as I moved from room to room, boxes and bags in hand, scrutinizing my possessions with the hawk’s eye of a Ms. Sherlock Holmes, I encountered a personal Waterloo—my library. Purging my overstuffed library of the books stacked six and seven deep on shelves and desktops, I discovered, is not the same thing as discarding long-held garments from an overflowing closet.
Getting rid of last year’s fashions is easy. I can buy more. But, for example, I cannot part with my scruffy 1918 copy of Joyce Kilmer’s Poems, Essays and Letters, or my 1828 tome Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language. Surely, all writers understand this dilemma. Once books are gathered in our arms, held in our hands, carted home and placed on our shelves, they become like friends and family members. They are not disposable commodities, inanimate objects made of paper and ink. Books are life—books are soul.
Each early morning when I slip into my office library holding a cup of steaming coffee, I enter my home’s sacred place. Though the rest of the house is as silent as a tomb at this hour, as an avid reader, researcher and aspiring writer, I can almost hear the welcoming, whispering voices of my ever-burgeoning community of books. Each volume seems to have a greeting, calling me to insight or adventure. I hardly know where to start, which one to choose! I walk from shelf to shelf, pen and clipboard in hand, moving quietly back and forth between my desks, savoring the opportunity to review what I know and to satisfy my curiosity for learning something new. A large library affords me a daily threshold to grow.
Though the shelves and desks in my current library, now groaning under the weight of many thousands of books, are a continual source of inspiration, they have often been a source of embarrassment for me, as well. My embarrassment took root, decades ago, when my previous library of a few hundred books occupied a mere hole in the wall (my pantry). One afternoon, my mother-in-law startled me by asking a simple question, “Have you read all of those?” Read them? Until then, I didn’t think I had to have read them all—not yet. Many of them were encyclopedias, dictionaries, commentaries and how-to tomes, books that were not meant to be read, exactly, but only visited, now and then, with my usual cup of coffee in hand, as one would query an old friend over the back fence for a bit of advice, or listen to an acquaintance share an interesting story or two.
I would venture to say aspiring writers are all bibliophiles, to a certain extent. We love words on the printed page and savor even the sound of words. Further, we want to create word portraits that showcase life as it is and as we hope it will be. We want to learn and to share what we learn. Writers are curious people, and as long as we have an inkling of unsatisfied curiosity, there is need for and room for one more book in our library. No matter that we have books that have been waiting for years to be read. No matter, either, that, at times, our libraries may look like proverbial rats’ nests.
As authors, our passions to read and to write are unstoppable. We want to join the conversation of writers across time and add our viable voices to their dialogue. We want to synthesize threads of thought throughout all the generations and present new possibilities. We want to write the books that bring insight, hope and joy to our generation—and beyond. And because we want to make that positive difference, each new book we add to our library, whether it is read right now—or not, represents potential for the birthing of our books.
Great post! I share your thoughts. I think my house would rise a few feet from it’s foundation if I parted with my books, but for now, the house is secured to the ground by the weight of my library. Betty
Your post touched me as I share your love for books. They have been a source for me since my mother read to us kids in a cozy pine-paneled room at bedtime. Marie
Yes! “Books are life, books are soul,” and books are friends. Last week I needed to reach for both Mary Oliver and Pablo Neruda, and they were not far off. Thank you for this beautiful reminder of how being in the presence of books enhances life.
Thanks for a wonderful post, Rose. I heartily agree. For myself, my house is not a home without a dog, and a room is just four walls without a book….or twenty. From the cookbooks in my kitchen, to the numerous bookshelves, side tables, deep window sills, etc., books line our lives. Many read multiple times, many waiting to be read.
I agree with what you and others have said. I love my books. Some of them have just been picked up along the way, but some, like volumes that comprise the complete works of Robinson Jeffers, have been collected through requested gifts and an actual visit to his Tor House and Hawk Tower in Carmel. Each volume is a memory of where I was when I acquired it. Karen