Saturday, December 13, 2008


I re-read books. I like the re-tellings and the “Why didn’t I SEE that the first time?” and the whole satisfying circle that they make, in that second-time-around. If it’s a mystery, I’ll notice little hints and snippets pointing to the culprit, and say “AHHHH.” My clue-vigilance relaxed somewhat, I’ll take in the entire smooth perfection of Poirot’s wardrobe, his little mannerisms, his eternal politeness. The details of a house, a meal, a library---all those emerge like the images on the paper in a photo-pan. If I liked the story or the characters or the plot, I’ll choose an old favorite from my shelves and have another delve into its charms. I used to read Dickens every Winter, and GWTW every other Summer---those seem like the proper seasons for those widely-disparate themes and locales.

And I lend. I’m delighted to share a favorite author or story or cookbook with someone who might like it. I wave an airy hand toward the walls of shelves; I offer freely and gladly, and I’m careful of the lending, but I like to share. And then years later, when I’m in the mood for Rumpole or V.I. or Kinsey Milhone or the Bennets---I try to remember whose hands carried the book from my home to theirs.

And I do mourn the loss of those volumes, the empty spaces in the collections, the niggling little want-to to read THAT particular story soon. And when they’re returned---that’s a good thing. As far back as schooldays, this cycle has run its course---the excitement of sharing a favorite with a friend, the months-later ping of wanting it back, and the acceptance of the loss when asking is not enough.

My books DID come home---a few of them, at least. My girlfriends in the 3rd-4th-5th grade loved coming to my house and borrowing from the great store of books given to me by my cousin, and of course, over the years, my supply became severely depleted with borrowings and not-returnings and passing on to someone else and carrying-off on vacation and leaving behind---that sort of thing.

I took a great number of them with me when we moved into the little house soon after our marriage, and we were fortunate to have the county bookmobile make bi-weekly visits to our little rural home. Miss Melba was a hefty woman, stepping down from that big white van step with a sigh that echoed the one of the vehicle's springs as she emerged; she had an uncanny way of timing her visits to our suppertime. We were always her last stop on Thursdays and she loved to eat with us. There were just the children and me by that time, and so we two ladies and the three little ones would sit down to our supper together.

But first, we'd all step up into the high van, making our way through the shelves of the magical books, and we'd each choose three or four. And one day, for some reason, Miss Melba came on a Wednesday; we were not expecting her, but scurried around, retrieving our books from shelves and bed-tables and couch-cushions. That day as we stepped in, we had to make our way around a big wide box sitting almost across the doorway. Miss Melba said to just never mind that; she'd picked up all those old books way out in the country on the other side of town, and since she had to miss the route next day to go to a doctor's appointment, she just drove on out our way so as not to get too far behind.

I glanced into the box, and saw the so-familiar blue covers, the familiar titles, the same bright-orange script and silhouette embossed on each---Nancy Drew's unmistakable imprint. There were more than a dozen, amongst quite a few books I did not recognize, and I picked up one, savoring the childhood scents of old paper, the feel of the crackly pages, the memory of Summer days high in a big old pecan tree, lost in the intrigues of River Heights or humming along in that snappy roadster.

And they were MINE, brought home by a happy happenstance, some confluence of events, the alignment of the planets---I don't know. It's just eerie that Miss Melba came to my house THAT DAY, the day that the Mom of my high-school friend asked her to take away all the unwanted leftovers from her long-moved-away daughter's bookshelves. It still gives me a pringle of excitement (yes---I use that word. I'd thought of it as a cross between prickle and tingle, that little neck-tickle, arm-hair quiver that bespeaks an unworldly moment---long before those round red cans marched their way into junk-food history).

My childish scrawl was on each and every flyleaf, with my name and phone number. She quite gladly gave me the whole box, and I still have them somewhere; quite a few are here on my "childhood shelves"---saved just for me, I suppose, for there's little chance that the three girls of our family will ever care to turn those weary pages, to keep them from falling apart in their hands as they turn them quick in anticipation.

They have the "modern" versions---the yellow and green with pictures on the covers, slick and new; I gave Gracie the first ten on her first birthday, to general hilarity, but her nine years accomplished have brought her to an intense love of reading, of the mystery and the puzzle and the fun.

I just heard she's reading Harry Potter now, and that's old for nine, but Magic knows no calendar. All her friends were reading them, so she had to start with #3, the only one left in the library. So the first six, in paperback, sit in their little cardboard pack upstairs, waiting to be wrapped for her Christmas visit.

So my books came home, where they'll live out their retirement in company with lots of dusty old friends. Sorta fitting somehow.


Anonymous said...

What a great story!! I love it that your books found you, after all those years.

I read and reread--the first time thru at a mad gallop, missing clues and descriptions as I hurtle towards the climax. But it is ok--a year or five later, I can reread it and it is better than new, because I don't have to hurry.

I once drove a bookmobile--one of many careers.

racheld said...

A BOOKLADY!!! That's right up there with all the best people, in my book. (Grimace---I didn't intend a pun).

I knew you were a Woman of Many Parts.

And I don't hurry much any more, either, though nine times out of ten, I've forgotten whodunnit.

Anonymous said...

I was in my early 40's when I worked for the library, and my co-conspirator was a kid in his mid twenties, a little bitty guy, about half my size.

The kids called us the bookmobile girl and the bookmobile boy.

More than once, we were asked if we were married and if we lived on the bookmobile.

Good part of working in the library--access to all the new books, and 40% off all book purchases. Bad part--access to all the new books and 40% off all book purchases. Talk about feeding an addiction.

racheld said...

To live in a Bookmobile!!!!<3

Mrs. G. said...

I love a woman who loves books!

Nora said...

Me too--books ARE magic. If the Kindle and other e-book readers ever take off, I will be very sad.

RS said...

I too adore books,Rachel! To this day, I CAN NOT resist the book section of the local thrift shop. I still buy multiple copies of some of my favorites, to give to friends who visit. As we sell some of my books, my daughter asks me, often,"Have you noticed that the piles and rows have not diminished as much as the numbers say they should?". I know what she is trying to nicely bring to my attention, and I ignore her meaning.
Food of all kinds- for the body and the mind- that is a big part of who I am- and I go on with my mission, sharing eats and words, sounds and pictures- with whoever comes my way.
As long as one has a place to sleep, a book, a bit of something to eat and a radio- there is no such thing as too poor for company.

racheld said...

And I love all you booklovers this most Book-ish of Seasons!!! I'm honored and delighted that you all dropped in.

I had had a bit of a fret just yesterday, as I KNEW I had lots more books to wrap than I could locate; I'm notorious for finding ten volumes sometime in July, when I go to get out the patio tablecloths. But I found the fifteen just now, in a box snugged behind Chris' recliner, perfectly visible all this time (save for the box of library books atop them---which is the only way I can keep THOSE all in one spot for keeping up with).

AHHH---RS, your hospitality is famous, your heart even more so.

And had there been radio---Austen or Dickens or Swift or Shakespeare might have written that last, so-true sentence.