My mom has struggled with depression for my entire life, but when I was fourteen, she went through a period of very deep depression and anxiety. She stopped being able to fully care for us, and often became overly frightened about things like rare diseases and natural disasters. (Don’t worry, this won’t be all doom and gloom. This story actually has an eventual happy(ish) ending. Years later my mom finally got help, became a therapist herself, and now works at a fancy pants rehab facility treating the rich and sometimes famous.) That summer though, she decided that we were going on a road trip, for reasons unknown and to points unnamed.
In a tiny town in Utah, sitting on the front porch of a general store, was a box labeled “free books.” Inside that box, stuck in between romance novels and westerns, I spotted this copy of Little Women. I had checked it out years earlier from my school library and had found myself completely bored. In the middle of that crazy journey, I picked it up eagerly and buried myself in it. To be honest, I think I expected to be bored once again, but I would have taken anything at that point. However, I was not bored. Far from it! I can still remember sitting on a blanket in the dirt completely absorbed by that certain scene which will live in infamy! I read it when we were in shitty motels; I read it outside whenever it was light enough; I read it in the car; I kept reading it even after my dog chewed off the bottom right corner. That book took me away from everything that was going on and delivered me into another world. I can honestly say that it saved me!
My old version of Pride and Prejudice, with its slightly bending spine, page creases, and library mark-up is my absolute favorite thing to see on my shelf, and that is because it reminds me of my junior high life of crime. Now because I was a minor and I'm sure the statute of limitations has run on my crime, I'll tell you that I may or may not have never returned it to the library. (it may or may not have been due in 1998) But my crime was not even for the sake of reading the book, it was for the love of architecture. You see, junior high Flann was dying to be an architect. She spent hours and hours drawing floor plans, elevation drawings, and no joke, subscribed to Architectural Digest and several upscale real estate magazines. She bought books of floor plans and knew all about different styles of buildings. So when junior high me found out there were floor plan drawings in this version of Pride and Prejudice after checking it out, there's really nothing the library could've done to get me to return it. Slightly bigger than one of my new Babysitter's Club postcards, the book fits perfectly in my hand. Why don't they make more hardback books this size?
Next up in the random factoids about me section is my absolute love of geography, maps, and completing lists. I recently told The Unread Reader about my list of US National Parks and Monuments and how I keep track of how many I've been to. Well, I love looking at my atlas (not pictured) and this USA bookof great sights to see that one of my sisters bought me. I love the entire sections of travel books which are scattered around my house.
While I was looking at my books (and thinking about my lists), I saw something else that always makes me smile, sitting on top of a pile of Nora Roberts books: a magnetic map of the US. As you can see, tons of states are missing. That's because I (and some of my friends) are sending them to Maja from The Nocturnal Library and her daughter to assemble on their fridge! They arrive with drawings, candy, fact sheets, postcards, temporary tattoos, or other fun things from that state. (I think her favorites so far have been a scorpion lollipop from Arizona and a sand dollar from Florida) If you have any fun ideas and want to participate, shoot me an email!
I have tens of honorable mentions for this feature topic. I could probably ramble on for hours. But I have to mention two more of my favorites--Graeme Base and Shel Silverstein. When I see their books on my shelves or on ANY shelves, I always stop to take a look. In Base's case, it is for the gorgeous illustrations and in Silverstein's it is a combination of nostalgia, humor, and the poems with corresponding drawings. The picture to the right is a stuffed Carl Kassell head looking at my copy of Falling Up. (NPR, FTW!)
Like every reader, I have a lot of sentimental value associated with books, but my sentiments are not attached to the books in their physical form, but rather to the content inside of them. This is why I can't really say that there are specific tomes that I will cherish and keep forever. There are stories that will stay in my memory forever and ever, but not actual, paper books. Those physical books I can acquire again and again.
Maybe my attitude has something to do with the fact that I had to completely rebuild my library after moving to America a few years ago, leaving behind a lot of what was important to me back then and there and discovering what blows my mind now, and maybe my ever-present drive to de-clutter is at fault. Either way, it doesn't really matter. Here are my books that I adore (if you remember, I only keep books that I've read and plan on reading again and again) and love to rearrange and fondle (just like any self-respecting bibliophile, right?). I always love looking at my bookies, I always want to read them (but then, I have only a limited time to dedicate to reading, so there is always a dilemma - to reread or read something new?), they always bring out the best memories - Mr. Darcy proposing to Elizabeth (both times), Harry Potter finding out he is a wizard, Jericho Barrons being all enigmatic and sexy, Jonah Griggs confessing and ripping my heart out yet again, Jamie Fraser announcing he is a virgin, Katniss looking at her children 15 years later after the deadly Hunger Games, or Georgia Nicolson just talking about her lip gloss and boyfriends. There is truly a whole world of experiences, emotions and people on our shelves, isn't it?
The books above to the left, with the font and alphabet you probably don't recognize are basically my first adult fantasies that I truly loved. Both Валькирия (Valkyrie) and Волкодав (Wolfhound) are stories based on Russian folklore and history. First one is about a woman warrior who is in search of a sense of belonging and love. She is stronger than most men (some magic involved), and that puts her in a very precarious position in a patriarchal society of pre-Christian Russia. It is very romantic (she gets the biggest badass BTW - the emotionally scarred widower and the army leader).
Волкодав is a Conan the Barbarian-like fantasy, with the main character who is on a quest to avenge the killing of his family. Less romantic, but not less interesting and absorbing than Валькирия. I love these books, because they remind me of my roots and take me into a time and place in history that I find very compelling.
And, of course, my Laini Taylor books. Laini is such a master storyteller and a master wordsmith and an artist. Even touching her books gives me a sense of magic, wonder and delight. I know that the moment I open her book, I will smile and get shivery from just experiencing her language and her imagination.
There are SO many books I own that give me all sorts of pleasures! Honestly, how do non-readers live without such experiences? My life would have been so empty and boring without books...