The pragmatic side of me knew I had to use this time to organize, which is how I found myself spending a good solid hour tidying my book shelves. Before you fall over the fact that I spent a full-on 60 minutes playing with books floor-to-ceiling shelves, you need to know that at my core I’m a word nerd who’s never once been without a library card or a list of books to read. (Sidebar of a true story: I was such a delinquent book returner in my youth that in kindergarten my mother gave me a lecture about my overdue books, telling me that one day, if I continued my wayward habits, they’d destroy my credit rating. Take this time to imagine the blank stare a pig-tailed six-year-old gives to someone after this lecture.)
But I digress.
While I was moving shelves, sorting books, dusting and declutterring, I realized that in a way my bookshelves tell the story of my life. From photography to progressive theology, bookshelves are like tree rings that tell a story of a tree and its environment. There’s my entire collection of Paulo Coelho’s works translated in English, which I managed to accumulate after a friend gave me The Alchemist as a college graduation gift. There’s my father’s old photography books, that he gave me to me when I got my hands of my first SLR. There’s some of my favorite children's books, both from when I was kid (hello, Misty of Chincoteague) and some I’ve picked up along the way because I wanted to have them on my shelves. (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.) There’s vintage sewing books, feminist theory, Irish literature and some American poetry anthologies. There’s the Jodi Picoult I love to read on vacation along with books on yoga, journalism, politics, public health and tons of fiction that I just haven’t been able to part with over the years. (I have a rule that book collection cannot expand beyond the confines of the shelves that hold them, so I always prune a few times a year.)
There was a New York Times essay a few years ago that talked about how bookshelves can be used to judge a perspective date. It was snarky and sometimes snotty, but at its core is this pretty important truth that we are what we read. Or, maybe it’s that we read what we are.
I guess for me, the books I hold on to after sending off a pile to Goodwill are the books that sort of mark the stages of my life.
What do you think?