As I sit here awaiting the moving guys…as I understand, after another half-sleepless night, that the hill has been halfway climbed…as I realize that this next stage of my life is just hours away…I look at the empty bookcases in the boxed-up living room and know that I am looking at a secret that has been concealed; one that waits again to be told.
Our bookshelves are the confessions of who we are. They tell our secrets. They nod to the stages, the loves, the obsessions of our lives.
I’ll bet that it’s the same for you: The books are the tours of us. There, the obsession with classical music. There, books on film. There, British mysteries. There, the tragedy that was the South Africa of apartheid. There, the truths of America. Novels. Science Fiction. Sherlock Holmes. Physics. African-American Fiction. Nabokov. Native American spirituality.
The snapshots of me.
When I moved away from NYC after so many years, I gave a lot of books away—a very difficult thing to do, at the time. A strange truth-telling, that. An unsettling admission. I had thought that as travelled from past to future, we traveled intact. I found that I was surrendering bits of my life that were no longer relevant to me. For a while, I felt as if this surrendering was a betrayal. Not so.
We change. We carry the molecules of those past selves with us always, even when the passion of the pursuit is gone.
Like a psychological Peeping Tom, I have always had a fascination with the bookshelves of others. Invite me over, and I’ll probably find a way to do that sort of emotional anthropology in front of your bookcase. They offer the snapshots of individual humanity that we get as we walk down a city street on a Sunday evening. Evidences of life in the lights, the movement, the glimpses of furniture. The canvas of existence in constant motion.
Our books are the ideas of others, writ in broad strokes, spoken quietly into our minds and thoughts and hearts. Who we are as we read each one is not the person we will be tomorrow. But it is an ingredient in the soup of ourselves—once there, it cannot be taken out.
Suddenly, there is comfort in knowing that, on this day in a changing life.