Over the summer, while I was on a morning walk, I was thinking about books in our house. I had just finished read The Great Gatsby. I read it on the kindle. I knew I could find a used copy, but at the time instant gratification won out, so I downloaded it. I wish I had bought the actual book. It's a classic—a wonderful read and one I plan to suggest to the girls at some point, but not on the kindle. Seeing books on our shelves is becoming so important to me. I still look through Grammie's bookshelves and we often borrow books from her, ones she has had on her shelves for more than 20 years. I just don't see how this would happen on an e-reader. I love my kindle, but I am thinking long term, and the nature of an e-reader feels very short term and inherently private to me, not to mention the books are impossible to loan out.
My first thought was to formally start our own library, inspired by Grammie's. One for our house, that our kids and future grandkids could enjoy. I started to think of all the titles I wanted in it but then I realized I didn't really want to be the only one involved. Homeschooling is such a joy. It also comes with the reality that Pete and I control so much of what the the girls are being exposed to. We want other influences in the house, not just books we chose, but special ones family and friends want to share with them to read and enjoy.
Trying not to over think it, I quickly sent out an e-mail to a few friends and family telling them about this project and asking for 1 or 2 book selections. Few people could stick to one, which was wonderful. Many people added or changed titles, some wanted to know about duplicates and then changed again. I made it clear I was buying these books, I just needed recommendations and a few comments about why the book meant so much to them. It was that last bit, the thoughts about the selections, that was the most meaningful part, but at the time I didn't know it. I was more excited to see what titles they selected. Then the selections came back with the comments about why that title was chosen and we were so moved.
I asked for fiction, high school/college level, and it didn't have to be considered a traditional classic. It was so fun to guess what would come back. Who would select Austin? (A few.) Would anyone choose Moby-Dick? (Yes!) We knew my father-in-law would choose Dickens, but which one? (David Coperfield) Both my husband and his sister selected the same author (Murakami) and I selected not a book that is my favorite, but one that really changed the way I thought when I read it, 1984.
I designed book plates with a space to fill in who selected the book and the reason they selected it. I have been slowly buying and adding these books to our shelves for the last few months. There are some duplicate choices, which is not surprising. When this happens, I just add both names and the comments of each person on one bookplate. I'm not in a hurry, it's not that type of project. I love fussing about which edition to buy and how the book looks. In some cases hardback doesn't make sense. There are some very nice softback editions. Most are used. I have many more to collect and more people to ask. And then there's poetry and non-fiction and graphic novels to ask about. It's amazing how this has a life of its own now, I just collect the suggestions, buy the books, and add the bookplates. It's so satisfying to see it develop.
We have sold back many books to make room for this. We have a collection that makes sense now, one that reflects what we want them to see and pull off the shelves over the next decade or so. The comments that came with these titles are so personal, poignant and thoughtful. Feelings about being different, being empowered, being understood, seeing the world in a different way—they told me personal things about my friends and family that I had never known. Each book is now connected to a person who means so much to us and has given a part of themselves to us in the form of a book. It's priceless.