Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Monday, August 09, 2004


The floor of my home library is stacked high with books. My bookshelves are overflowing, and though I’ve tried, tried hard to be parsimonious in my acquisitions, I have failed. There is only one solution—keep everything and buy more bookshelves.

My books, every one of them, are my friends. It used to be that I had read nearly every book I owned. I keep them around because glancing at their spines evokes delicious associations -- a special time and place where I read them or a special person associated with that book. This is not to mention all the adventures the contents provided, internal and external – through space and time, loving and hating the characters, identifying with the characters, reading painfully slowly to postpone coming to the last page. In short, they mean a lot to me.

It is no longer true that I have read every book.. In the past few years my collection has grown – through gifts and purchase, but mostly through rescuing books.

In a family garage cleanup, I rescued books that belonged to my great grandmother’s generation, including a Baedekers Italy from my great Aunt Sarah’s grand tour of Europe in 1883, The thoughts of the Emperor M. Aurelius Antonius, inscribed to my great grandmother Susan Hostetter MacKay , a couple of battered Louisa Mae Alcott books inscribed to my grandmother Sarah MacKay by her Aunt Vena, and two Christopher Robin books, one inscribed to my mother and the other inscribed to my father. I treasure these books for the inscriptions inside, for the loving hands that held them and for the bookloving legacy handed down to me.

There is another group in this category. These are books that belonged to my father. I don’t know my father in a deep way, and have never understood him. I have this crazy notion that if I stare at the books that absorbed his attention instead of our family life, then maybe I can unlock to mystery of his mind and his heart. These books also sit on my shelves: the works of Freud, the Menningers, Kierkegaard, Kant, Kafka, Nietzsche, Sartre, Eric Hofer, Alan Watts, and later Depak Chopra and Elaine Pagels.

I stare at the books but my father’s heart remains a mystery.

I recently acquired another irresistible gift, a bequest from a dear old lady, an intellectual with exquisite literary tastes. These books have a double meaning for me – I treasure them both for content, and as a reminder of Cicely, who read avidly for most of her 99+ years. These books include the works of Colette, Proust, Jane Austen, Nancy Mitford, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, as well as some Asian literature and travel literature. These books will not sit idly on my shelves; these I will get out one by one, over the course of my life, when I’m ready to go back in time or to challenge my mind. Or when I want to think of Cicely.

For now, my task is to find a home for every title.