most books I read never make it to my bookshelf.
only books I love make it to my bookshelf.
it’s partially a financial decision (I read so many books a month I’d have to sacrifice eating or something equally painful to pay for them all), partially a space decision (I’d have to begin building furniture out of books), and most importantly, a decision made because I wish to be surrounded only by things I love. I mostly buy books only after I’ve read them (borrowing from the library or from friends), making the decision to purchase because I want to treasure them, own them, have them around me, let them speak to me from the shelves, remind me of them as I pass by and glance at the bookcase.
not many of the books I read fall into this category. many I appreciate, many I learn from. many I find interesting or gripping, but the ones that capture my heart and soul are few and far between. which is not a terrible thing. I don’t need to fall in love with every book I read: some I need for pure escapism; some I need for advice, validation, education. the most glorious of all are those from which I expect little, that grow wings and blossom with each turn of a page, and become more than I dared hope for. surprises. gifts. unexpected pleasures found.
a while back I was trying to find books on my shelf that might interest my 15-year-old stepson who has not yet learned to love books. (I fear I gave him nothing at all that piqued his interest, but I tried.) what I loved, though, during this process, was to run my eyes along the titles, letting images and memories, scenes, stories, characters flit through my mind, oh yes, I loved christopher, oh, and that time he told the story of the bears, and oh, the congo, how terrifying the fighting was . . . tales and pieces and names came flowing in and out as I moved from shelf to shelf.
woe is he who doesn’t read. whose imagination and memories aren’t filled with richly remembered stories and moments. television and movies can’t give the same gift as words on pages to which we must add our own imaginative wanderings.
I love my books on my bookshelves. they tell the story of me, from years of education and introspection and growth to those of joy, escapism, curiosity. I am my bookshelf, wide and varied and deep and filled with a thousand stories and dreams and realities.
in stating all of this, I do not mean to slight the rest of the books I read and return, for they, too, have had a hand in my becoming who I am. but unless a book–or a beloved author’s book–resonates deeply with some part of me, it’s unlikely that I will bring it home to rest with all the others who have slowly and certainly become a part of who I am.
like most writers, I’ve written on napkins, post-its, hotel note pads, stray pieces of notepaper left on the table. journals, spiral-bound notebooks, computers, the back of my calendar. when you need to write, you need to write.
I’ve heard of writers who select a notebook and keep an entire project contained in it, neat and tidy, often organized into sections such as character development, settings, chapter outlines, dates and facts. I more often use single pages–grabbing a new sheet for a new thought–and try to file them in a folder so I can access them again when needed, while also keeping notes and writing in the notebook-or-journal-of-the-season (not to mention computer file on top of computer file). thus, pieces of three different projects can exist alongside each other in a random notebook, which doesn’t seem to be very neat and tidy.
for my latest project–as yet still undiscussable–I decided to experiment with an organizational strategy not yet tried (by me): the single journal/notebook. before heading out of town a few weeks ago I purchased a simple, black, bound notebook with an elastic strap and set out to organize myself. I usually give my projects a one-word nickname, and I wrote this (as yet unmentionable) name on one of the first pages. I followed that with a brief paragraph about what I know so far about the project. then I skipped a few pages and headed the next pages with character names, writing thoughts and ideas beneath each header. a few pages later I jotted down more ideas, possible directions, potential movement.
then I took every other note or scene or chapter beginning I’d ever written about this project–whether on a computer file or scrap of paper or in a journal–and I copied it into my shiny new black notebook so that everything in existence about my new (as yet not conversable) project was contained in a solitary place. whee! organization, meet susan! this was exciting, a brand new way for me to approach a (can’t tell you about it) project. I packed this notebook in my laptop bag and took off on vacation . . . didn’t open the notebook the entire time I was gone . . . and when I got home, realized that the notebook did not come home with me.
everything I’d worked so hard to pull together and organize and create was lost, either in the condo, on a plane, in a TSA bin, or in some airport waiting area. I wondered if perhaps the universe was trying to tell me something (not a good project idea, forget the concept of organization, be more careful with precious things, you know, one of those negative messages).
michelle branch sings a song, I write mainly on hotel paper . . . was the universe trying to tell me that I should stick to hotel paper, napkins, spare sheets of 3-hole punched paper lying around?
7 emails, 4 phone calls, and 1 fed-ex account later, my black notebook is on its way home to me from LAX, where it had landed in a “lost item recovery” bin.
so I’ve decided the universe was giving me a “be more careful with precious things” message, which is actually a good message to apply to all aspects of one’s life. whether it be a journal containing bits and pieces of a (as yet undisclosed but fabulous) new project, the people you love, or a piece of hotel paper with the beginnings of song lyrics on it. precious comes in myriad forms, and exists only as long as we remember to keep it so.