Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, April 17, 2009

Magazines A-Plenty, Books Galore

by Kerry Blair

As a young Relief Society president I was sent to rescue an elderly woman from what the bishop called “deplorable living conditions.” There was a single over-stuffed chair in the living room, a tidy table and folding chair in the kitchen, a neatly-made twin bed in one of the two rooms off the hall, and a mostly-accessible toilet in the bathroom. The problem? These bits of random furnishings—and a major appliance or two—could be accessed only by passing down narrow passageways carved through towering cliffs of newspaper, magazines, and books. It was the most awe-inspiring thing I had seen in my life. (Clearly, the bishop had sent the wrong person.) I wept with joy and embraced the sister as a kindred spirit.

Left to my own inclinations, I would be that woman. Every day I tear articles from the newspaper and print stories and pictures from the Internet that might possibly have something to do with a book, story, article, or blog I may write someday. (Perchance.) Until I find time to categorize and file these invaluable sources of minutiae, I drop them in a basket or tuck them into a crevice of a bookshelf. Time passes. The newsprint yellows. The computer paper crumples. What were once invaluable treatises come to look very much like trash, so I take a deep breath, gather them all up, and haul my stash out to a waiting bin. Then I start the process over.

I am trying to determine if I need professional help. Do any of you gather words like a crazed chipmunk going after the last kernels of nourishment on earth? Do you or anybody you know agonize over pitching a perfectly good magazine after reading it cover-to-cover? I have periodicals from 1901 through yesterday; hundreds of them—mostly in the garage, hidden under camping supplies and secreted behind food storage containers so nobody can mistake them for garbage. Many have been soiled and/or consumed by mice but, hey, parts are still readable. I fear this rationale is not rational.

And that brings us to my books. I have collected (read: hoarded) books since I was old enough to look at pictures and sound out SP-O-T. Besides most of my preschool favorites, I have complete sets of The Bobbsey Twins through Nancy Drew and on into Text Books of the American Lyceum Circle, The World’s Best Orations (1-3350) From the Earliest Period to Present Time—with “present time” being 1899. (Still, that has to be the best-titled book series ever. How could I ever part with it?) Cicero supposedly said that a room without a book is like a body without a soul. If that is true, we are undoubtedly the most soulful house on the block. (Possibly the planet.) There is not a room, porch, cupboard, garage, shed, or cranny on this property that doesn’t have books in it.

Recently, before the cliff walls grew high enough to attract the attention of the bishop (or fire marshall), I decided to cull a few tomes of my own free will and choice. Thus far I have sent a truckload of books back out to enrich the rest of the reading world. I did this mostly because I had been assured by authors of books on clutter and feng shui that restoring order and spaciousness to my home would be a cathartic and freeing experience. It wasn’t. It was painful in the extreme. I’d read every single book I gave away—some more than once—and formed a meaningful relationship with each. While I tend to call my youngest son by the wrong name some days, I can remember most books I’ve read, when I read them, and how I felt at the time. While I was too embarrassed to comment on the book lists Rob posted last week, I’ll come clean now: I’ve not only read 70 to 80 books on each list, I’ve owned most of them at one time or another. (Also, Dickens and Steinbeck are among my closest personal friends. So there.)

Since I still have a ways to go before I can convince the men in white coats carrying straightjackets that I don’t have a book fetish, I need help paring down even wore. When it comes to your best-loved books, how do you decide who goes and who remains? (And don’t tell me books are “whichs” not “whos.” They are “whos” to me.) If it’s highly unlikely that you will ever again want to sojourn in the country or frolic on the seashore with the Bobbsey Twins, do pass them on? (Even if you’ve had them your whole life and distinctly remember how they got you through measles, mumps, and chicken pox?) Or say one reading of J. Proctor Knott’s “The Glories of Duluth,” delivered 27 Jan 1871 as the House of Representatives debated the St. Croix and Bayfield Railroad Bill, is probably enough. Do you let all ten volumes go? (Even if they are hand-sewn, kid-bound, and contain some of the most remarkable thoughts and photogravure of the centuries?) Do you keep your personal favorites regardless of genre, or settle on preserving just the classics of literature, even though they can be read—and cross-referenced—on the Guggenheim site? (And if you don’t save the classics, what do you do if or when you meet Charles Dickens or John Steinbeck in the after-here? How will you possibly justify tossing Great Expectations or The Pearl after they changed your life?)

This is too hard for me. I desperately need advice—if not a hand in carting away a tome or twenty. If you don’t come through, I fear I’ll resort to perusing the vast cyber-shelves at Amazon for a 12-step book on overcoming book addiction. And you know what will happen then . . .

Or maybe I am over-reacting. My family can still make their way to the sink, fridge, and toilets. Besides books, what more does anybody need?


At 4/17/2009 12:59 PM, Anonymous Chas Hathaway said...

Couldn't tell you what to do - but I can certainly relate to your predicament. My wife and I have collected more books than we have shelf-space for. They're everywhere!

Maybe we'll take the Kirby Heyborne approach and instead of food-storage for furniture, we'll use our books for furniture. That way, while relaxing on the "couch" you can simply pull off an arm-piece and read it!

- Chas

At 4/17/2009 1:26 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Kerry, books are the one thing I have a hard time parting with. I have bookshelves in every room and they are overflowing, but, as you said, how can you part with a book that changed your life or made you see something you'd never seen before? It's impossible. I tell myself that perhaps, if there is a natural disaster of some sort, and my possessions survived, I could be called on to be a library and everyone would appreciate my collecting qualities then. Ha!

I don't that there is a way to get rid of bound friends, but I will watch this thread closely to see what advice everyone else offers. :)

At 4/17/2009 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I envy you your problem, Kerry. While you were growing up and savoring everything from light fiction to thought-provoking literature, I spent my childhood wondering if my mother would survive her next cancer surgery, or if the chemo and radiation would take her that day or the next. How I would have loved to have hid away in a library reading of others adventures, and forget completely about what scared me the most, if only for a little while. But I never had that option.

It's no wonder that as an adult I've turned to writing fiction. I wished I’d thought of this as a child. It would have made those years so much less painful.

I do collect books and magazines now. I, too, tear pages out and tuck them away in corners, stack them in piles so I’ll have them when I want to read them again. I’ve had to purge those piles periodically after running out of seating space, or if I have guests coming and I don’t want them to think I need that rubber room and jacket with extra long sleeves.

I didn’t bother responding to Rob’s list either. I knew I hadn’t read a fraction of them, and I was embarrassed to say anything. I still am, so forgive me if I don’t sign my name to this.

At 4/17/2009 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was unfair of me. Please forgive me, Kerry.

Keep your books, or give them away to good, loving homes. Toss the magazines and articles after you scan them onto your computer. Lighten your load and free your mind of clutter. You have enough things to worry about.

At 4/17/2009 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed. All over the computer screen.

Kindred spirits with a crazy person? Is that why you moved to Chino Valley? Nut jobs on every culdesac?

Since you talk with Dickens regularly, tell I'll read his stuff as soon as he reads mine. And another message: tell him thanks. We could use some of his Christmas Carol cheer and maybe an Oliver Twist right about now. Heck, we'll take any different twist of fate he can offer.


Your worst lifetime achievement award nightmare.

At 4/17/2009 2:55 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Chas: Love the idea! I have books under furniture, but not books AS furniture. Possibly I could craft the magazines and newspapers into chic covers...

Julie: No wonder I love you!

Anonymous #1: I'm so sorry you didn't have books to help ease an intolerable situation. (Nevertheless, you turned out marvelously, you know.) But reading IS how I survived being overwhelmed in childhood with family issues of alcoholism, depression, terminal illness, and suicide. Nancy Drew was my "best friend" and I'm grateful to her -- and the public library -- to this day. I'm so glad you are finding joy and redemption in writing now. I've no doubt your work will be a gift to others who suffer as you have.

Anon #2: There are no cul de sacs in Chino Valley. Crazy people? Sure. (But possibly not as crazy as you.) As for your signature, I have no idea what you're talking about, but it sounds ominous. You know my son's a Marine, right? He's been trained for just about anything, so watch yourself. :)

At 4/17/2009 3:20 PM, Anonymous said...

Oh please send any and all books to me, I love to read and my library has nothing I haven't read. I have MS and can no longer buy books. I lost all of my booksie friends during hurracane Andrew in 1992 and have not been able to replace them. I will love and give a good home to any of your friends. Please think of me if you decide to foster out any books. Your friend and fellowbook lover, Angel from Abilene TX

At 4/17/2009 3:44 PM, Blogger Windsong said...

Precisely. Welcome to Bibliophiles Anonymous. ;)

I admire you. Our house is also over run with books, but I can't part with them. We have a rule for our family. There are two things you never tease about: love and books. o:)

At 4/17/2009 3:54 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

As a practical solution, have you considered getting a storage unit for your books? It's nice having them close at hand, and all, but not worth the fire hazard. (And falling hazard.)

It's odd. I rarely read a book more than once and yet there are some books I have a such a bond with, I can't imagine getting rid of them. Most of them are firmly embedded in my consciousness, so even were I to lose my paper copy, I'll survive. =)

On the other hand, I feel very warm and fuzzy passing along a loved book (I'll buy a new copy, even) to a friend, hoping that they'll love it as I did.

At 4/17/2009 4:00 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, faced with the same problem I've begun giving away books on my blog. I figure that people who like to read and write well enough to leave comments on my blog are my kind of people and they'll provide loving homes for my books that can no longer find shelf space on/in my crowded book cases, baskets, end tables, etc. As a little girl I found it super painful to give away adorable, cuddly kittens and I could only bear it if the kittens went to good homes. I'm the same way with books, I can't let them go to just anybody. Yes, there are some books I can't part with, but there's something satisfying in sending a good book to someone who really wants it too.

At 4/17/2009 5:24 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...


Like you, books are a who not a what to me. They are some of my best friends and they will live with me as long as I am alive. Not all books are friends, and those that are not, I send along to a better place where someone might befriend them. But I just make more space. My daughter has claimed inheritance rights to our books. But when she gets married and moves out, her big room is going to become the library. I won't have the rolling ladders yet. They will have to wait for a bigger house. But it will be a great room none-the-less.

One of my greatest dreams is having a granddaughter like you who will one day walk into the library and think she's found heaven on Earth.

At 4/17/2009 6:48 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

If Great Expectations changed your life, it sounds like you got the wrong message from it, Mrs. Havisham.

At 4/17/2009 7:15 PM, Blogger Kelsi Rose said...

Kerry, I feel your pain. I will come to your house and go through all your books with you. The ones that you can part with I will take, no worries, they will be loved and cherished as best friends.

Jeff, I want a library in my house too. Although that will have to wait until I can buy a house of my own. I have laid claim to my parent's books, although I might have to divvy up the cookbooks between my brothers.

At 4/17/2009 8:06 PM, Blogger LexiconLuvr said...

I like Windsong's comment: "Bibliophiles Anonymous" I'm totally a member.

For me, the idea of ridding myself of any is blasphemy. If I haven't the space, then I shall have to get a bigger house. (Someday...)

Another idea is this new ebook thing going on. I guess you could just have them all on an electric media device (or ten.) But for me, there's nothing like the feel of bound and printed pages in hand.

I'm sorry. I'm useless when it comes to this sort of advice.

At 4/18/2009 12:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a little different experience. Living on a farm, going to a one-room, one-teacher-for-all-eight-grades school, and never realizing there were actually book stores, libraries became my favorite retreats, except they weren't really accessible. Oh, the thrill when our teacher went to the library used by the group of small schools like ours in the county and loaded a couple of boxes of library books to place on the shelves of that wonderful, glass doored, cabinet that was our library! I've never minded reading books over and over--don't know which I read the most times, Boxcar Children or Christie (neither on Rob's list)-but just having something to read! Occasionally we'd be able to stop at the county library during the summer and pick our own! Joy! But they always went back, and on time to avoid fines... But evidently that has saved me anguish in the long run. Is it better to have only checked out books and given them back or to have had them and then try to give them up?


At 4/18/2009 6:00 PM, Blogger lachish said...


I know how to delay giving away the books...

You just need one of these:

Mobile ShelvingWe could even have a fund raiser to assist you in your purchase!

At 4/18/2009 6:09 PM, Blogger Marta O. Smith said...

Do you have a wall or two you could dedicate to shelves? You would never have to paint them again, only dust.

If I ever have the opportunity of building my dream home, I want a library just like the one in "The League of Extraordinary Gentleman." Two stories, covered floor to ceiling with books, a balcony, a tall ladder on wheels, overstuffed chairs. But no gunfights. That might damage the books. For now, I have to settle for stuffing the bookshelves I have until the shelves are bend.

At 4/18/2009 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just thinking, but a group with as much creativity as we have should be able to come up with some kind of invention--a weave-in-and-out case like the luggage distributor in the airport, portable shelves that rotate up and down like the carpet roll showcase at Home Depot, or even sliding bookshelves like pocket doors or library ladders--that will end up the phenomenal invention of the century not only saving Kerry's books but the extra kitchen ware, year supply food storage and...
I bet Kerry, Jenny or even I (if a copy of Grave Secrets would qualify) could come up with a reward for any and all ideas which colmunated in the creation of such article.

Anyone a taker?

Marlene Austin

At 4/19/2009 12:30 AM, Blogger Stephanie Humphreys said...

I guess there are worse vices than collecting books and papers. I've started a bookshelf collection to support my other habit.

At 4/19/2009 11:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If only I just had books to worry about - but alas there's also the fabric collection from when I worked at the fabric store, the paints and wood from when I worked at the craft store, and I'm embarrassed to even mention what I accumulated from the scrapbook store! (I carry the goods from the bakery on my person.)
My books are the least of my problem - they are safely tucked away in a bedroom (so what if the book case takes up the whole wall...)
If I could just convince all the children to move out, my problems would be solved - one room per hobby.
(Good moms out there, don't judge me - said kids are all grown and are on their 2nd and 3rd rebounds.)

At 4/20/2009 10:37 AM, Blogger Michele Holmes said...

Kerry, I loved this post! For some time now, I've been trying to convince my husband that we need to move or add on to our house. He doesn't agree, but instead feels it would be good to get rid of, "stuff." Which basically means books and/or all the pages I rip from magazines and save. I have improved, in that I don't save the entire magazine anymore(just roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of it---after all, who needs to keep all those advertisements?) And I have a system of categorized binders for everything from children's birthday party ideas to artwork I might use in a Sunday school lesson to articles on how to write scenes with romantic tension. The result is that we now need a bookcase--or two--for my binders :)

At 4/20/2009 5:50 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

This disease is known as "Bibliomania" and many are affected.

I have a book about Bibliomania that relates the following story.

Apparently a man in the midwest was convicted of stealing millions of dollars worth of rare books from libraries around his region. Some East Coast mobsters heard about the case, and visited him in prison. The mobsters asked all sorts of details about the crime--how easy it was to steal the books, how he identified the valuable books, etc.

In the end, the mobsters had just one final question. "How," they asked, "did you sell the books after you stole them?"

"Sell the books?" the prisoner asked. "Why would I want to sell the books?"

Clearly, some people are bibliomaniacs, and others are not.

At 4/21/2009 10:37 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Kerry, I agree books are indeed a girl's best friend. I devoured books then, and I currently need to be reading at least one book now. (I'm actually reading two at the moment.) ;)

My house is filled with a variety of books, much to my husband's dismay. ;) I try to keep them all inside the computer room, but there are a chosen few in the living room, a bookcase filled with them in the guest room, another bookcase downstairs in the family room filled with the books we purchased for our sons when they were younger.(I'm saving them for my grandchildren.)

I have a difficult time letting books go, especially those that I love. So I'm no help to you on this one. =D


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