Friday, 1 August 2014

Books are the memorials of our lives


I was having a rest on the couch in the front room, where we keep our bookshelves. Even though are a bit jammed and higgledy-piggledy, as you can see, I still think they look lovely, in these days of e-books, and that's what I was thinking as I let my eyes slide over the spines on several shelves. In that lazy moment, it occurred to me that I could vividly remember the occasions in which each of them came to me.

* There's the one I found in that unexpectedly excellent little country town bookstore, with all the twisting passages, when I was on holiday with my family last year.
* I found that one at Dubbo, just before we took the kids to visit the old gaol.
* The one next to it was from the bookshop in the foyer at Hillsong Church, when we reached Sydney on the same trip.
* That's one I saved up for, to buy from John Martins when I was a kid, and that department store no longer exists.
* That's one my sister gave me, when she was working in England and we flew across to visit her in my teens.
* That's one of the few I decided to hang onto after a Uni English course, which I thought would be worth reading again.
* I bought that one with a Koorong voucher somebody gave me for Christmas.
* That one was a quirky find on the bargain table at my local library.
* I swapped one of mine with the author of that one.
* That's the trilogy my husband bought me when we got engaged, and he was still my fiance. We later chose one of our sons' names from it.


Memories kept rolling through my mind with each book I looked at. What a fun way of keeping track of the events in our lives. I realised that almost every occasion in which a book joined our family was a happy one. I'd never thought of doing an exercise like this before, but now I'd recommend it to everyone as a quick and simple way of boosting your mood. Just peruse your books, and re-live the occasions when you received them. Our books can serve a multi-purpose. As well as being valuable for their stories or other content, we can also use them as memorials of our own lives.

For those of us who are authors, our books become happy memorials on other people's shelves too. With second-hand books, I may be inheriting the special memorials of other people, which will remain a mystery to me. And each one that I give away or add to piles for second hand shops may end up adding memories to other people's lives. The beautiful thing about books is that their histories can last centuries, if they are not knocked around too much. I have books that bear inscriptions in long-forgotten handwriting from my grandparents. Once, I went to a second hand book sale at an old church hall, and discovered that most of them were the ancient, hard-backed type with plain covers. There were so many, they were crammed behind each other and looming over my head in columns. The thought of all the buried memories, not to mention generations of fingers turning all the pages, is astounding.

So without even leaving my spot on the couch, I revisited some of the best moments of being 10, 15, 16, 21, 34, 28, 5 and several ages in between (because they are a bit of a hodge podge at the moment). And I'm sure there are new ones which are yet to join those already on my shelf in years to come.

Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary fiction, set mostly in the Adelaide Hills, where she lives. She believes that a well-told story has its own particular power to touch hearts, and loves to read as well as write. 

17 comments:

  1. Paula -- I love your blog post. I cherish my print books as well. You are right -- they hold memories.

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    1. Hi Janet, books really are containers, of both stories and memories. I like my ebooks, but print books are special.

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  2. Many of my books have memories, especially books I've inherited. I've got the King James Bible and a copy of Mrs Beaton's Book of Household Management from my grandmother, a book of poetry that belonged to my grandfather, and a book of Common Prayer that belonged to my great-great-grandmother. It makes me wonder which of my books my children or grandchildren will choose to keep as a memory.

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    1. Hi Iola, what excellent heirlooms. Yes, out of an entire collection, it's interesting to consider which ones will strike them as essentially 'us'.

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  3. Some lovely thoughts there, Paula--thank you. My shelves are beginning to look like yours too! So much richness there though and so many memories, as you discovered, making it all too hard to cull them. Maybe your rest on that couch will provide an idea for another book--or two--of your own?

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    1. Hi Jo-Anne,
      I've culled several from time to time, especially during moves, but they have a way of piling up again. Perhaps it's because second hand shops are too hard to resist, and others who are culling their own piles tend to hand them on to me. I think I'll be a bit sad if the world does go entirely digital some day, because groaning bookshelves are such a nice problem to have.

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  4. Lovely post Paula. My family tease about my many bookshelves and my daughter was musing the other day who she should donate my books to when I'm dead - but i'm hopeful she might just treasure a few of them. What a great reminder to savour the memories of how our books joined the family.

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    1. Hi Jenny,
      I'm sure your daughter is enjoying the benefits of your crammed shelves even now. What a lovely legacy to leave a family, a shelf full of wonderful stories and rich ideas. They do get heavy if you need to cart them all around at once though.

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  5. Identification alert!! Apart from a few much-loved titles that I retained, I grieved for many books I couldn't take with me when we went to live in UK for a time. Especially some from my childhood - those my children had outgrown, and some they hadn't grown into. As my children grew they would ask about a book they'd heard of and I would say, "Oh, I have a copy of that!" and then realise it was no longer the case. I cried for my short-sightedness in not keeping them. What delight when, now, I come across one of those mourned for titles in a second hand shop! I carry it home, restored once more to my shelves, even if it has someone else's name scrawled on the facing page.

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    1. Hi Rhonda,
      I commiserate with you. How sad to part with a book and then be unable to find it again, especially those which have gone out of print. I'm glad you've found some again. That's the good thing about books, even with somebody else's name, it still becomes your own. I have found that some, but not all, of those out of print goodies are easier to track down on Amazon than they used to be.

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  6. Paula, great post! It's interesting that you chose this topic. I've been wondering if we could start losing a part of our cultural heritage by switching from print books to ebooks. We only own licences for ebooks and they can't be passed down to future generations. Those memories that connect us with a physical book just aren't the same with an ebook.

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    1. Hi Narelle,
      I really hope that doesn't happen completely. Ebooks have many wonderful characteristics, but several limitations too. I've already found that it's frustrating, not to be able to 'lend' a kindle book to people I know who don't have ereaders of their own. You're right, print books are our cultural heritage and hopefully they will last through history, for that reason.

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  7. "Memories from the corners of my mind," so goes the song. Yes, Paula this has often happened to me when I see them. One particularly has a special place. It's a huge old second-hand Bible with gilded edges and clasp. It once belonged to 'Tottie" who sounded like a lovely Christian lady by the notes she made throughout. We used it at our wedding and have since recorded special family events in it. I'm sure our son will keep it going when we're gone.

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    1. Hi Rita,
      I'm humming along too now. Wow, what a special thing to own, and I'm sure Tottie would be pleased to know that her Bible has come into the hands of somebody who treasures it. It sounds as if her margin notes make it extra good, at times. It reminds me of some of L.M. Montgomery's characters (I think it was both Emily and the Story Girl) saying that they value second hand books with the previous owners' scribbled notes. That might do for another blog post one day :)

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  8. . Great post - and comments. Since we down-sized we simply don't have enough book cupboards and currently trying to make time to go through our books. So many precious memories simply have to stay but how to choose! A local church has a library of fiction and non-fiction and we will have a couple of boxes at least for their librarian to go through and we've said to sell any they decide not to keep so have money to keep buying new books. However, we are also thinking of having a book sale ourselves first. We need more money to buy more books - especially by our increasing number of good Aussie authors. Paula, your Imogen Chance is still on the top of my "To Buy list!" Love your stories.

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    1. Hi Mary,
      That is always a tricky dilemma, deciding which to keep and which to donate, but sometimes it has to be done for the sake of space. And it's good to think of other readers getting hold of something good to read when we donate. I hope you enjoy Imogen's Chance when you get hold of it.

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    2. Hi Mary,
      That is always a tricky dilemma, deciding which to keep and which to donate, but sometimes it has to be done for the sake of space. And it's good to think of other readers getting hold of something good to read when we donate. I hope you enjoy Imogen's Chance when you get hold of it.

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