A Multitude of Books & the Meaning of Autographs

Sometimes we are overwhelmed by our home library.  Bookcases dominate our decor; we have double-shelved books in every room.  A Zen read-and-weed approach would be helpful, but we acquire books as fast as we weed them.

This winter, two of the mudroom’s windows began to pucker. They are now slightly concave,  with gaps between the glass and wall.  And I’ve been very anxious about the books, as the wind  blows through cracks and the room is colder than ever before.

The books on the “M-P” shelves  are in the worst shape, even though they are farthest away from the windows.  And so I put on a jacket and did a rescue mission–bringing in as many  books as possible.

The Bantam boxed set of the Anne of Green Gables series is unharmed, but the Iris Murdoch Penguins will have to be pulped.  And the brittle pages of Katherine Mansfield’s Complete Stories are now so acidic they will doubtless turn readers into eternally poisoned Sleeping Beauties.  The Samuel Pepys is ruined.  The complete diaries–gone!  As for the Anchor paperback copies of Nobel-winning Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy, they are done.  Curling covers, slightly foxed–you get it.

The weather has determined which books I must weed.

THE MEANING OF AUTOGRAPHS.   When a boy wrote “The Long and Winding Road” lyrics in my yearbook,  I thought him very sweet.  But after that I never cared for autographs.

The last autograph I got was in the ’90s.  I waited in a long line to get a book signed by the Southern novelist Kaye Gibbons, who seemed overwhelmed after giving a witty lecture (like stand-up comedy!) to a packed auditorium.  Gibbons joked, “I need to get my Lithium adjusted,” and people laughed, but I did not think she was joking.  The  person ahead of me  in line asked her to copy a long inscription and she was obviously exhausted. I settled for a signature, because I do not care much about signed books anyway, and was only in line because my friends were there.

I was happy to find in the mudroom a signed copy of award-winning Carol Shields’s Larry’s Party.  That was a memorable small reading: she was relaxed and chatty, wore an elegant scarf with a stylish blouse and nice slacks, and seemed like the perfect person to hang out at a coffeehouse with.  Everybody was shy at the Q&A,  so those of us who did  PR  got things started.  I love Shields’ writing.  She won the Pulitzer Prize, the Governor General’s Award, the Orange Prize, and many more.

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