One of the most wonderful things about starting this library project, besides having an ironclad excuse for buying books at every opportunity, is that it’s meant I’ve had dozens of conversations about books with people around me in the last couple of weeks. And talking about books with family and strangers alike is, as it turns out, always wonderful.
At a recent family dinner, we were talking about my father’s family’s generations-long relationship to books and reading, and my dad’s cousin Barbara mentioned how New Freedom didn’t have a library back when they first lived there, so my great-aunt Ann started one. Of course she did! That is something my aunt Ann would do, but I had never heard that she had started a library before. So apparently the urge to start libraries, either publicly or privately, is in my genes.
At that same family dinner, we learned that my great-grandfather’s dictionary collection (besides the multi-volume OED, which is now in my possession) was donated to Johns Hopkins University. Are any of them still there? None of us are sure, but I would like to find out!
When my sister and brother-in-law came to visit this weekend, we all started talking about the library project with my parents. My mother mentioned a writer that she hadn’t thought about in years that she used to love – Susan Howatch.
I hadn’t found her in my travels at the bookstores – or hadn’t noticed her because I hadn’t been looking for her is a more precise way to put it, because on my very next trip to The Book Thing, there was Susan Howatch’s The Waiting Sands and The Devil on Lammas Night. And now they’re both on my shelf waiting for me to read them!
A friend of mine has been reading my blog and took a look at her bookshelf and realized that only three authors she owned from the 20th century were women, and she never would have thought of it if I hadn’t started this blog (and we also learned that we both owned and loved Dibs in Search of Self).
The project has also made me miss my grandmother terribly. She was extremely well-read and also never one to hold back an opinion. While she was an expert in classics and loved the British Romantic poets, there were women authors she would have had in her own library and that she would have had firm opinions about.
Grandma used to say about the Arbutus library, “I’ve read everything in this library. [Pause.] Well, everything worth reading.” She was a great one for well-placed pauses, my grandmother. I wish I could tell her about the project and ask her advice on it.
I also think the project seems to be having some kind of impact on me that is manifesting itself on my face or outer energy somehow, because strangers are talking to me more in bookstores – really. Today at The Book Thing, a woman tapped on my shoulder. When I turned around, she had Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto in her hand.
“Have you read this?” she asked me. “No, I haven’t yet.”
“Oh, you must.” She pushed it into my hand. “It’s amazing. I won’t re-read it though.” She paused. “I am afraid it won’t be just the same as it was the first time, and I don’t want it to lose its magic. Please read it.”
I promised her I would. Even though, technically, it was published in the 21st century.