by Jennifer on February 26, 2008

window.jpgLast night, I spent some time looking through the files on my computer, hoping to stumble across something that would inspire me to write a post. Maybe a scrap of brilliant prose that never quite found a home, or a photo that would cast its line, heavy with bait, and pull an old story from the bottom of my soul. No such luck.

Then I looked at the stack of books on my desk.  You know, I forget it sometimes, but a stack of books sitting on my desk or beside my bed – especially works of fiction – is nothing less than a treasure, wrapped in the echo of a revolution.

There was a time when it would have been an impossibility. I can explain.

If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you may have come to understand that I was raised by a difficult (let’s embrace the euphemism) woman who was not my mother.

The memory that these books brought to mind was of our rare trips to the public library. I can think of only a handful of visits, certainly no more than five. She would walk in with the three of us, and though we were allowed to browse among the shelves, she would remind us that we weren’t allowed to look through the fiction section. At home, there was a selection of religious fiction that she encouraged us to read – books with a clear moral stance and a message. But here, with shelves stacked high and long with stories? Fiction was off-limits. I remember having the general sense that she thought mainstream fiction might corrupt us somehow.

Maybe it was too much work for her to help us find age-appropriate stories? Maybe the idea that we would read something and have questions about it was exhausting to her.

I have a feeling she didn’t want us to know just how big the world was, outside of our house and our church and our small circle of friends. Outside her reach.

I knew this, even then.

As her daughter, I felt like a lump of clay, malleable, and no bigger than an egg or a small stone. Never bigger than something that she could hold in the palm of her hand. I believe she wanted our lives to remain small, and god knows she may have needed that, too. Did small equal manageable? The things she struggled with, who knew what they were? The answers were beyond us, the soft pads of clay.

She wanted something more for herself than the life she had, I know that much. But I don’t know that she ever wanted more for us, as most parents do for their children.

Books became important to me as soon as I reached high school. How could she argue with required reading? Not only was I supposed to read these books, I was required to think about them and present my ideas (stale as they may have been in high school) about them. I fell in love with stories, and with the hope that one day I could write my own.

So, back to this stack of books next to me. They are mine. I bought them all, and they will be part of my personal library for the rest of my life. Right now, most of my books are packed in boxes, awaiting our move. I miss them. And I continue to buy more, and pack those away, too, after I read them. I am eager for the day when I will unpack them all and arrange them on shelves once again. Maybe by author, maybe by category. Biography. Non-fiction. Poetry. And, yes, fiction, the largest group.

They are mine, and each of them is like a window. I need them around me, to let in light. And darkness, too. Who doesn’t need both light and darkness?

They are windows. Through them, I see the world, and it is big.


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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

HRH February 26, 2008 at 10:01 am

Thankfully things were easier on me at home. I did have my CS Lewis space trilogy cofiscated in boarding school. CS Lewis? Illiterate idiots. It made me so mad that no thought whatsoever was given to choices being made. It was a spotlight on ignorance.

This is why my first grader is in a Classical Education school. He has been introduced to amazing literature in Kindergarten and 1st grade that I never read. I get to learn with him. I got a second chance.

Yeah for second chances. Yeah for hoarding books knowing no one is going to take them away.

slouching mom February 26, 2008 at 12:35 pm

this is perhaps my favorite yet of your posts. and this line…

Never bigger than something that she could hold in the palm of her hand.

…stopped me in my tracks. that might be because i see myself — and my own mother — in it.

lovely. and true.

Sandy (Momisodes) February 26, 2008 at 12:49 pm

What a lovely post. I vaguely remember the handful of times going to the library as a child. My mother rarely took us there too .I LOVED the smell in there, and the plastic covered books 🙂

Good luck with the move and packing!

Kellan February 26, 2008 at 1:17 pm

I’m glad you have this thing that is “yours” – that you love and that you can turn to for comfort – I’m glad you have your books!!

Have a good day – Kellan

cce February 26, 2008 at 2:35 pm

I’ve never imagined before a life without fiction. How hard for you when you were young. Maybe the lack of fun reading when you were a child has made it all the more precious to you as an adult. I’m with Slouchy, a lovely post.

we_be_toys February 26, 2008 at 2:42 pm

For not knowing what to write, you did a beautiful job!

I love books too – they’ve always been my refuge, my escape, from the ugliness of the outside world. No matter what the internet may offer, there will always be room for tons of books in my house!

I think I need to go back and read your archives – I have missed reading about your childhood experience.

JCK February 26, 2008 at 3:23 pm

…or a photo that would cast its line, heavy with bait, and pull an old story from the bottom of my soul.. Loved this line, Jennifer. Beautiful, heartfelt post. And sad. I’m glad you have your books. I sit in a room surrounded by books. So many that they overflow all the shelves and my husband is building more.

It is fascinating to me that your childhood drove you to books. Probably the opposite of what the woman who raised you was striving for. 🙂

Landon February 26, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Your post made me look at my books again.
As hard as it is to have most of your books packed away rather than around you, just think of the wonderful reunion you’ll enjoy. I’ve always loved the act of unpacking my books after a move. It’s like meeting old friends again.

Angela February 26, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Oh, Jennifer..this is too pretty. And I know what you mean.

Tootsie Farklepants February 26, 2008 at 6:55 pm

I’m just gonna give you a hug.

flutter February 26, 2008 at 7:26 pm

You just sucked the air out of me.

Mrs. G. February 26, 2008 at 7:56 pm

You would feel very comfortable at my house. There are books EVERYWHERE. I share your love.

marlee February 26, 2008 at 9:10 pm

What a moving post…

liv February 26, 2008 at 9:30 pm

i feel captured by this post. and i know we’ve talked about it, but still… you are a wonderful woman, full of depth, and this post says it all.

peace and books for you!

Emily February 27, 2008 at 6:24 am

I write for much the same reason. I am free of the person who used to tell me I could not write well.

My books have — for the most part — been in storage for two years. It feels empty without them.

Brenda February 27, 2008 at 6:46 am

Ah, the opportunity a book brings. And piles of them… well, it’s endless.

I believe you have an insightful view of what was happening with that person in your childhood.

From my experience in the world, it seems that everyone needs to be in control of something (someone). Ideally, that person/thing would be ourselves. Unfortunately, when people are not in control of themselves, they seek frantically to control others, and often the small ones are the victim of this because they have so little with which to resist.

When I look back now at a teacher or relative who tried to squash me as a child, I see how ridiculous it was that they could. But I was only a child. Thank goodness for me, it wasn’t in my own home. I’m glad children are resilient and have defense mechanisms, and that you found, and still find the world, through wonderful works of writing, most prominently, fiction.

Very nice post.

Kelley February 27, 2008 at 8:24 am

I’ve always had an irrational attachment to books. It’s sad and exciting and funny all at the same time whenever I decide it’s time to move. I have almost as many boxes of books as I do everything else in the world. They’re almost like a security blanket for me, I think.

Molly February 27, 2008 at 2:04 pm

Great post. Someone once said that his idea of paradise is a library. Me too. I can’t imagine, nor would I want to, a life without books. They are the perfect escape.

dragonfly February 27, 2008 at 2:20 pm

I lived in the library. Seriously. It was three blocks away and I’m pretty sure that was the first place I was allowed to walk to on my own (besides my friend’s house four houses down).

And I am still addicted to books. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

I’m glad you have them now. 🙂

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