Thursday, February 20, 2014

February's Book: My Ideal Bookshelf. Art by Jane Mount. Edited by Thessaly La Force

What are the essential books on your bookshelf? Who are the authors who are your mentors, your guides? If you had to reduce your library to only a couple shelves, which books would unquestionably have a place? Which books do you return to,  reread and consult? 

These are not just practical questions, but are revelatory questions about who you are and who you were created to be. 

When I started writing this post I thought I was going to write about Thomas Moore's most recent book, A Religion of One's Own, A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, but after writing the opening paragraph, I realized I am not ready to write about this book. I need to sit with it more, to reread all I have underlined, to reflect on what has arisen for me as I have read this book. His books have always been the right book at the right time for me, and I know without a doubt that his books will figure prominently on my "Forever Bookshelves," but I need more relaxed, internal time with this new book before I share my reflections on it in this blog. 

Switching Gears
Oh great, I said to myself, what do I write about in what has become a third Thursday of the month regular feature, my book of the month? It's not that I haven't read other books (For example, I loved the new novel Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan about Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny. Horan wrote the acclaimed Loving Frank about Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife Mamah Cheney), but this post is not meant to be a book review, but instead, is a way to offer spiritual reflections and to invite your thoughts as well. 

I reread my first paragraph and had my answer. My Ideal Bookshelf. Art by Jane Mount. Edited by Thessaly La Force., I don't quote from the cover flap, but I am making an exception this time, for it describes perfectly the scope of this book.
        The books that we choose to keep and display--let alone
        read--can say a lot about who we are and how we see 
        ourselves. In My Ideal Bookshelf, more than one hundred
        leading cultural figures including writers…musicians…,
        chefs and food writers…Hollywood figures…, and fashion 
        designers…share the the books that matter to them most--
        books that define their dreams and ambitions and in many
        cases helped them find their way in the world.

Now if that weren't intriguing enough, the book itself is lovely. Each short first person essay is accompanied by an illustration of the book spines of the individual's personal selections. 

One Book Leads to Another
This book sits in one of the cubbies in my Lady's Writing Desk in the living room, and I dip into it occasionally. I am reading the essays both in the order in which they are presented, beginning with Hugh Acheson, a chef and cookbook author, but also open it at random and see where I land. Just now it is the writer Mary Karr and I love her shelf, which includes one of my favorite books, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. Seeing the spine of that book reminds me of the class I took many years ago in which that book was discussed and then many years after that driving quite a distance to hear Kingston speak. Seeing this title this morning makes me think about the way I have at times been a "woman warrior;" times in which I have gone to battle for a cause or a person; times in which I have stood up for myself and surprised myself doing that. This is a contender for my "ideal bookshelf," and deserves to be reread. 

Each quick hit with this book seems to lead to a memory, a connection, a writing idea, or at the very least a new book for my ever-growing "Books to Read" list. And, of course, the very nature of this book makes me think about what books I would want on my ideal bookshelf. Just how long is this fantasy bookshelf anyway?

Fantasy Shelves
My fiction shelf is already quite full and includes my favorite childhood book, Dandelion Cottage, which I think inspired my own love of home tending. Each of the other books--Pride and Prejudice, Giants in the Earth by Rolvaag, The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne, The Woman's Room by French, a selection of Nancy Drew books, Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, Hedda Gabler by Ibsen, A Separate Peace by Knowles, The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, and Goodbye Columbus by Roth--conjures memories of time and place, as well as a stage in my personal development. 

I have not yet committed to an imaginary nonfiction shelf, although I know Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul will be there. I can think of others, such as Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Composing a Life by Catherine Bateson and Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, but the nonfiction shelf feels more in flux to me. I know I will continue to read excellent fiction that will move or delight me, but when I think about choosing fiction for my ideal bookshelf, I feel myself gazing into the past. The potential nominees for my nonfiction shelf seem more about the present and the future, as I strive to restore my essential self. Does any of this make sense to you? 

It's time to stop writing about books and return to reading time. I do promise to write in the future about A Religion of One's Own by Thomas Moore. I know it has sparked so many thoughts for me, but they are jumping and bouncing in me and in no shape to sit on a shelf yet. 

An Invitation
You knew what the question would be before getting to this spot in the post, didn't you? What would be on your Ideal Bookshelf? Why? What do the books you have selected say about you--where you've been, who you are and who you are striving to be? I would love to know.  

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