Writers are supposed to do two things: read and write. Which means I have a substantial amount of books. I have my shelves of favorite authors -- books by Jane Green, Claire Cook, and Elizabeth Berg. Those are in my permanent collection. Other books are favorites from years back, books like L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle and Cynthia Blair’s A Summer in Paris. But, my bookcase is now experiencing space issues, and so the time has come for me to sort through my books into “keep” or “donate” categories.
To help me sort through my vast book collection, I’ve begun a new reading system. I alternate the reading of a new book with the re-reading of a book from years past (a book I may not even remember). If either read doesn’t result in an automatic “Yes, I’d read that book again” response, then it is relegated to the donate pile.
As I was dusting off shelves and reading various book jacket flaps to decide on my next selection, two books caught my eye. Each with a story of its own.
The Random House Basic French Dictionary. A paperback tome with a selling price listed as $2.95. I was a young girl who knew she wanted to go to Paris. Truthfully, I wanted to live in Paris, but that has not happened. Yet. And, a young girl who seriously wants to live in a foreign country should have a working knowledge of the country’s language. Hence, the dictionary. All these years later, and this dictionary was still on my bookcase, taking up valuable shelf space. I didn’t even bring the dictionary with me on our trip to Paris back in 2005, and with dictionaries and translation devices readily available in a digital format, there’s no real reason for me to hold onto this book. The print is small, the pages yellowed, and my “This book belongs to Wendy Fraser” sticker (my maiden name) has lost its adhesive. It is now in the donate pile.
The second book taking me down memory lane was Norman Schur’s 1000 Most Important Words. This was a book that my ninth grade honors English teacher, Mr. Hemphill, told our class to buy. Each week he gave our class a list of words to study. And each Friday, we had a vocabulary test that required me to complete a sentence using the correct vocabulary words. Many years later, I would use this same format to test my fourth and fifth graders on their weekly vocabulary tests. It was through this book that I learned words like “abdicate,” “nomenclature,” and “erudite.” This book, too, is yellowed and musty, my personalized label inside is loose, and yet this particular volume isn’t so easy to part with.
I am someone who likes using the physical dictionary, the one that came with the encyclopedia set my parents bought my sister and I when we were kids. I like seeing that two-volumed tome, knowing that it contains the word: the word that will make the sentence I’m writing pulsate with life. And although my paperback Ballantine Reference book is much smaller, it holds that same promise. These are important words that have the potential to make my prose more poignant, more distinct. And so this book is a keeper and is back on the bookcase.
It’s actually a wonderful “problem” to have: too many books and not enough space. I’ll keep reading, I’ll keep writing, and I’ll keep re-organizing my bookcase. As long as I’m reading and sorting my books, I can stave off a trip to Ikea and the purchase of an additional bookcase.