A couple of days ago I finished reading a strange little book called Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. Anne Fadiman is a bibliophile extraordinaire. And I thought I was a crazy library lady. Not in comparison with Anne. Anyway, the book is interesting, but far too high brow for my taste. In any case, it's not the book as a whole that I want to talk to about, it's one small thing she said in it that struck me.
She describes a bookseller who visits his former history professor's apartment, after the professor's death, to pack up his library in order to sell the books. The bookseller describes getting a real sense for who his professor was by the books that were on his bookshelves. He goes on to say that when the books were brought back to the bookshop and separated by topic, they no longer represented his history professor. At that point the bookseller "realized that books get their value from the way they coexist with the other books a person owns, and that when they lose their context, they lose their meaning."
The truth of this quote really struck me. I have three large bookcases in my house and every now and then I have to weed (technical library term) through the books to make room for new ones. But every time I try, I can't seem to part with any of the books that define the different phases of my life. And now I understand why. Taken together, my books tell the story of my life. From the crumbling copy of Walt Disney's Treasury inscribed "Pamela Christmas '67" in my Dad's handwriting, to the Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedia set my grandfather bought me volume by volume at the supermarket when I was in high school, to copies of the Greek myths from my college days, through books on baby names and parenting tips and the more recent travel guides on England, France and Portugal, my books define who I am. And looking through my bookshelves reminds me of the girl I used to be, the mom and wife I am today and the woman I am still becoming. My books tell a story. My story.