Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Treasure Unearthed

Martin Memorial Library,
circa before I was born
One of my fondest memories as a child is going to the Martin Memorial Library each week in the summer, to browse through the vast collection of books, finding new treasures all the time. It wasn't until high school that I began to accumulate a library of my own. For the past few years, I thought that many of my books from my young adulthood had been lost on one of my many migrations north, south, east, and west (yes, I have traveled in all directions, and have yet to put down roots!). I had searched my parents home high and low trying to find all of them, to no avail.

And then, a few weeks ago I received a phone call. While cleaning out their garage--which happened to be filled to the brim with furniture from my grandfather's home--they discovered my boxes of missing books! It was with much delight that we picked up these little treasures yesterday. Ever since, I have been in book heaven. I had replaced some of my favorites, but there is nothing like reclaiming your original copy.Like pictures, so many books hold precious memories to me. They like to remind me how they have shaped my life, and helped make me who I am. There are the books I discovered in high school, when I was just starting to create my own uniqueness, figuring out my personality as separate from my friends. In choosing two selections I would memorize and recite in 10th grade Honor's English, (the only time in my life I ever had to memorize a part of a book) why did I choose the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, and the following selection from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice?
"I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" (p.45, Merchant of Venice)
At 16, I was already exploring the depth of the human condition and religious tolerance (even if I may not have realized it). Like the prodigal son, I welcome with opens arms the return of my collection of Shakespeare plays I purchased over the years from the Folger Shakespeare Library. I delight in finding my beloved copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book that helped me learn about slavery, more so than the lessons from my history teachers!
College introduced a whole other realm of exploration. I delighted in the dystopian and utopian literature we read in my Women's Lit class. The Handmaid's Tale was my introduction to Margaret Atwood, an acquaintance who is now firmly entrenched amongst my favorite authors. You can not imagine how happy I am to have my original copy back in my possession. I may have never discovered Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower or Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland (isn't that book cover beautiful??) if it wasn't for that class. A few anthropology classes, which eventually turned into my second major, sparked my curiosity of other cultures, and a desire for a world that accepts and embraces diversity, with books such as Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria and The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull standing out. No Shame in My Game by Harvard anthropologist Katherine Newman does a much better job of giving a voice to low-income workers than Barbara Ehrenreich has, as she interviewed and followed almost 300 low-income workers and job seekers in Harlem.

And of course there is the following tiny article, part of the Reader for the General Writing class, a required course for all Pitt freshman, that sparked my love for Frida Kahlo:
Finally, there are all of the books that I purchased to prepare myself for an adventure abroad on Semester at Sea, and the required reading for my onboard class, Post-Colonial Literature. If only Professor what's-his-face would have started with Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart instead of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, I might have enjoyed that class. We never got around to reading Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North, and alas, seven years later it is still unread. However, the readings of Wild Swans by Jung Chang, A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro, and the Bhagavad Gita all remain vividly imprinted in my mind.


Laura said...

What a wonderful post! I can just imagine your joy at being reunited with these books, and the fun of creating the bookpiles for your photos. I found myself peering intently at each one to study the titles. I laughed when the first one I saw was Edith Hamilton's Mythology. My daughter just read a few parts of this as one of her 9th Grade Honors English summer reading assignments. She is not yet impressed but I'm hoping classroom discussion helps!

Lotus Reads said...

I have so enjoyed reading your post. Observing one's collection of books through the years is almost like looking at an album of snapshots because they record your growth as a person like few things ever do. I don't believe I have too many of the books I read as a young woman except for my collection of books by Jean Plaidy (yes, I was a nut for British royal history). Some of the books I read at 15 were from my father's collection, so thankfully he still has those.

iliana said...

What a great story! Sadly I lost a lot of my books from my teen years when I moved to college. My apartment flooded and a lot of my books were damaged. Oh, and I think at 16 I was still reading Sweet Valley High books :)

Nyssaneala said...

@laura - it's nice to see that the mythology books is being read in 9th grade hon. english! (that's when i acquired it).

@ lotus reads - I'm glad you enjoyed it! It was such a delight yesterday to look through everything and write this post. Finding homes for all of the books, however...not quite as enjoyable.

Nyssaneala said...

@Iliana - i'm sorry to hear about you losing a lot of your books. I have lost some due to flooding as well, but fortunately not very many that I loved.

I used to love Sweet Valley high! I don't remember how old I was when I stopped reading them. I have quite a few photos of me holding Danielle Steel books at the beach during high school, however.

Camille said...

I so know what you mean about having your original editions. Sometimes I go and look at my bookshelves and seeing the book just brings back memories. I've read Jane Eyre 3 times, always my very first copy from when I was 15, and I know I'll never read a different copy. :)

Bookfool said...

What a wonderful post. I could just sit and stare at those lovely piles of books all day, but I really enjoyed reading about the different book phases you've gone through. I'm really fond of my older books because of the memories attached to them, also. Very cool that your missing books have reappeared!!