Friday, October 17, 2014

Reading Life in the Book Piles

     I sleep with books.  As a child I had a teddy bear, but as the years have passed the comforting sight of books tossed aside from the night's reading seems like a habit with origins just beyond childhood.  My mom read mysteries and my dad read westerns.  The cheap paperbacks must have galloped through the house returning to where ever they originated having left nary a pile. This was a mystery that I never solved.  No books were stacked in the living room, piled on the floor or never, not ever left on the well-make master bed .

    I will credit my mom and dad for going grocery shopping every Saturday morning and creatively leaving my sister and I at the local Reno Public Library to gather a new stack of books for that week's reading.  I read through the fairy tale section, horse stories, Nancy Drew mysteries and eventually by high school moved on to reading the classics.  A new neighbor of mine, Mo, is a writer.  When she recently shared a piece of fiction that she is working on, I realized that I have not read fiction in a very long time.  The above pile of books by my bed are all non-fiction.  Curious.

 Twice when I was around the age of twenty, I walked into houses and was unexpectedly charmed. One house was located on Long Island belonging to a college friend and one in Kansas City.  Piles of books dominated chairs, the floor and were balanced precariously on tables.  I came to associate these houses with the ideal home filled with light and books.  Although I now think that both were fairly typical suburban homes, their books gave them a distinct feeling of being grand and modern, artful expressions of elegance.  The stacks of books were like those one might see in architectural magazines with piles of coffee table books and bookshelves stretching to the ceilings conveying that the owners were discriminating and intelligent.  Only now do I understand that they had piles of books simply because the read with deep and wide interests.

     In college I read history and historical novels.  Then books on educational theories, reference books on topics like how to sail or get through life.  Late I began to read mostly books by or about women.  I wasn't intending on discriminating against male writers, I just figured that I had already read a preponderance of male writers and this needed a little balancing.  At this point in my life, I was beginning to wonder how other women made it through life juggling all of their responsibilities and still had time to read.

     And so I read mostly fiction.  With the leisure time to peruse library shelves and second-hand bookstores I could find female fiction writers.  I would read piles of books by each of these new-found writers.  When Gary and I married, he brought a love of history and politics to our home and these became part of my reading stacks again.  When Gary became sick, my library time seemed to disappear.  I no longer went to the library to find new authors.  As I read the last of the books by authors whom I had loved, my list of fiction writers diminished until there were no new books to read.  

     Here is a pile of books that I mostly just finished reading.  Only the top book is fiction and it is the only one in the pile that I have not finished reading.  I have read the first few pages, an unbreakable habit from high school.  I would read the first chapter of my pile of weekly books.  This way I knew which book would strike my fancy any time that I settled in to read.  
     Here is a current stack.  These are a few of the books that I have read in the last few months.  The Death and Life of Great American Cities took me the longest to read because I loved it the best.  I would haul it upstairs in the evening and back down during the day to read before a nap, snippets at a time.  Much of what I have been reading challenges a world view, informs an interest or just gives me joy like the Birdhouses of the World gifted by my sister. 

  Last night I went to the Whitman College Library with the intention of looking around for a novel.  I spotted Ann Patchett, a known novelist on a shelf of recommended reading and having never read her, found a chair nearby.  I had to laugh when I realized that the book was about writing, an autobiography of sorts.  But what I did find last night was that the time to explore books of fiction is back in my life.  Just in time.  As I get older the fear of loosing one's mind crosses my mind.  "Read fiction" is the latest advice from researchers.  The entranced focus that comes from following the unwinding plot keeps the brain strong and healthy.  I'll not forsake my non-fiction books, but push them aside for a new pile of books.


  1. On my coffee table now- Shigeru Ban, Boys in the Boat about the 1936 Olympic victory of the rowing team from UW, Agathe Christie classic And Then There were None - I don't think I had ever read it! and last
    You are the Placebo about the power of the body to heal.

  2. Ok, that is quite a list of books. A reader for life for sure!


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