Monday, July 30, 2012

Nearly Swamped and Book Decisions

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:37,38, NIV)

God has blessed our family in an incredible way. Though my husband is approaching his ninth month of what his neurologist called “the malignant form” of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, our family, friends and church have gone great lengths to help us. They have bought us a van with a handicap ramp. Our insurance company paid for a power wheelchair that cost more than any car I’ve ever bought. And a friend and his wife bought us a house with a track system and motorized lift in the ceiling to make simpler the multiple transfers a day that my husband requires. Others have generously donated money to help with the aides that are essential a few hours a day to relieve me from the 24-7 job of skilled nursing.

Nobody prays harder for me than my two children. Everyone wants to make sure that this situation has not swamped us.

What does a writer do when she is “nearly swamped?”

Like the disciples, I have entertained images of myself treading water, of being subsumed by forces I cannot control in any way. For instance, though a crew of about 30 from our church came and moved us in one day, I needed to make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of; and deal with many such “you have to decide now” choices in the midst of the encompassing and relentless scenario.

Truly, I felt no sense of stricture when I realized that there would not be as large a place to display books, for instance. It felt freeing to say goodbye to books I’d kept, knowing I “ought” to read them. (The Harvard Classics, for example, now have a spotlighted place on my daughter’s living room wall.)  My great collection of books on ancient Egypt were pared down to the ones that had personal meaning, and the rest went to Ebay. My theological reference books will stay in a box until I find an institution that wants them (I can look up things much faster on my computer.) Almost all my books on Mormonism went to a Christian university.

And fiction. I had about forty novels I wanted to read after I'd given away others.

How telling it was to me, when I placed them on the highest shelf of the bookcase, out of reach without a stepstool.

Part of that was because I don’t possess leisure time now. I don’t own the hours it would take to finish even a mindless murder mystery.

Part of that was because they were like the “skinny jeans” the diet experts tell us to hang up in plain sight to motivate us to keep eating celery. Someday I might fit into those books.

But the most startling realization was this: These were the books that I would read when I couldn’t use my Kindle. Like the water containers and flashlights and propane lantern and batteries I stock in case of a power outage, they were a backup plan I really don’t think I’ll use.

How about you? How have changes in your life intersected with the way you relate to your own personal collection of books?


Susie Finkbeiner said...

In college, I had planned on furthering my education in order to teach on a collegiate level. I hoarded English/American Lit books, determined to read them all. All of them.

Now, over a decade later, I'm sorting through a room that juts off the back of the house. It will be Megan Sayer's home for a few days in November (yes, I'm bragging). So, I've been looking through all my old books. How many copies of "The Great Divorce" does one girl need? Will I really get to "Moby Dick"? Who knows.

But, I'm okay with the weeding of books. It will make room for a person to stay with me. And, as I've learned since college, people are so much more valuable than paper and cardboard and glue.

BK said...

God bless you. I pray for moments of renewal in what has to be very stressful circumstances. Moving, even without all the other stuff, is one of the most stressful experiences of life (at least to me).

I culled a lot of books when I moved from living alone to having to share an apartment about 14 months ago.

I culled again recently because the older I get the more rabid I am about decluttering. But I need to make myself do it again and be brutal. It's so hard!

I'll never give up my Zane Grey collection. You'll have to pry it from my cold dead hands. But should I keep all those 1970's/80's Star Trek books now since they are most likely sold in e-book form? And I actually do go back and re-read some of the Hardy Boys collection--it may be simplistic reading, but I love the strong sense of family that comes with these books.

And do I really need that guide on Hiking Death Valley when I've lived out west for 15 years and STILL haven't managed to get to Death Valley even one time?

Then there's that collection of short fiction of the west that I keep, intending to use it as a training tool to write short fiction--a book I've had for years and never cracked.

It's a constant battle. I've made a hard and fast rule to buy no more fiction in paper, but I just borrowed Laura Hillenbrand's non-fic "Unbroken" and now I want to go out and buy the hardcover.


As a general rule, I am disconnecting a bit more from paper books. Never completely, but definitely a step removed from where I used to be.

V. Gingerich said...

Oh Latayne, you sound so brave and strong, climbing up to put your books on a high shelf. Thoughts and prayers for you and yours!

My own books sit in storage, back home in the U.S. I though I couldn't live without them, brought some along, and had every visitor bring more to change out with those I had. I sometimes thought I might starve.

Then something happened: I won a Kindle from my favorite bloggers. :) And I discovered that my library back home has an online borrowing system.

My husband loves how much more quickly I pack for overnight trips and I like how much lighter my backpack feels while knowing my reading choices are endless.

I still miss my paper books but in a completely endurable way. (Thanks again, NM!)

Latayne C Scott said...

Susie, since I have met your delightful self, I think Megan will be greatly blessed to be in your home!

BK, I appreciate what you said about continually paring down, yet knowing what is really important to you. I am finding that it is not the sensory experience of a book but the content that means most to me.

Wanderer, what a wonderful solution to your problem. And did you know that each time you "check out" a book from your library on a Kindle or other reading device, the author gets a royalty?

V. Gingerich said...

Latayne, I didn't know that! I do buy some ebooks but I'm delighted to know even borrowing books helps the author.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Changes in life in the past five years have caused me to cull the books again and again and again. I keep the books I re-read. The rest pass through my hands as quickly as read now. There was a time I fancied myself building a library for loaning to children in a rural area. (There is also the matter of reputation; what intellectual titles jump out from your bookshelf to impress visitors to your home?) All things considered; I now have two folding bookshelves filled with classics and a few books I cannot live without. The boxes these books fit in are labeled and flattened in the closet.
Latayne, thank you for giving this intimate look into the life of a writer and book lover.
There is truly more security these days in getting rid of books when I know they are accessible again online and online is as close as the nearest library even when I am without permanent lodging.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Well, recently my love and need for books has rekindled (no pun intended, since I don't use an ereader).

When my literary buddy died last year, so did my desire to read. Every time I thought of recommending a book to him, my heart sank, and I wanted to cry. So I abandoned books.

That is, until I finished a novel with my mother in September last year, and something happened. In December, I picked up a book and . . . and enjoyed it. WHOA! What happened???

My love was back! Recently I can't get enough of reading them, collecting the ones I know I want, adventuring over ice, through Camp Half-Blood, winding around Manderley, raising dragons . . . . It's beautiful.

You'll get there, Latayne. Trust God that He'll bring back your love of your best friends. He brought mine back. I know He'll do the same for you, and He'll even provide you time to read them. He's kind of awesome that way. :)

S. F. Foxfire said...

Oh, recently I discovered a site called that lets you trade books with other users, and the only thing you have to do is pay for shipping when one gets requested from you. Then you get a credit and can order any book you like!

Jan Cline said...

I will admit that I dug my heels in about the Kindle thing. I love the feel and smell of a book in my hands. But as my bookcases overflowed and I had to start giving away those "books I want to read someday", I gave in and began to read electronically. I don't have the time or energy to keep a perfectly organized house - I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and like many writers, I've had to adjust my expectations for how much I can do. If I thought I could manage it, I would just build another bookshelf, but alas, I would just fill that one up too.

How I admire your attitude - seeing the glass half full or full as it sounds in your post. I think the books are a symbol of all the things in life we must make decisions about. To keep or not to keep. To stay or go, to slow down or speed up. So for me, I'll still buy a book now and then, but I'll be downloading the majority of them.
Jan Cline

Megan Sayer said...

Thank you Latayne, this has really helped me. I won't go into the details of how, or why, but it's so good to read.

It's helpful for me to remember there are seasons in life - and sometimes they are awfully long ones - but they are still seasons.

And Susie!! I feel terribly honoured that you've thrown away books to make room for me! Wow. I could sleep on them, you know? It does seem rather wrong, especially as to carve out a Megan-shaped hole in a room would probably take an awful lot of books : )

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I have book shelves in almost every room. And piles of books on every floor. My idea of having fewer books is....for the first time I went overseas and came back with three guide books. Only three.
I have my grandmother's books and my mother's books. I dream of my child discovering the wonder of 'old'. I think of my grandchild reading my books with the same awe of continuity.
My father just delivered 7 thick hardcover books to my floor.
Will I read them all? I have two books on my shelf that I don't yet have the courage to read. Maybe when I grow up. Other than that I don't collect what I don't read.
Megan, there is space for you in my guest room but you might have to read me a bedtime story. That's where the children's books are.

Megan Sayer said...

HaHA! Henrietta I would LOVE to come and read you bed time stories!! Apparently I do a good job on The Secret Garden : )

Latayne C Scott said...

Cherry, I believe I could get down to two bookshelves too, if I had to. But not yet. . .

S.F.-- I believe the time is coming. When I get unpacked, when this deadline is past -- I feel like Gatsby's Nick who described "boats against the current."

Jan, I wouldn't have believed a year ago that I would like a Kindle so much. In fact, someone had to give it to me (I wasn't about to buy one.)

Megan, you are so welcome! Whatever it brought to you.

And I love you and Henrietta's interchange.

Just curious -- did Susie and Megan make each other's acquaintance here on NovelMatters or elsewhere?

Bless you all.

Megan Sayer said...

: ) Yup, me and Suze met right here on Novel Matters, January last year.
Actually, nearly ALL the other writers that I know I met here. Seriously, I've tried to go to writer's conferences, I've tried to go to local writer's groups, I've tried to join online groups - none have worked. If it wasn't for Novel Matters I STILL wouldn't know any other writers, and would be a lot lonelier for it, and far less productive. Thank you!!

Latayne C Scott said...

Wow, Megan. That was one of our greatest, fondest dreams for NovelMatters -- that it would provide a community for like-minded people. God be praised.

Lori Kempton said...

It sounds like you've really been through a lot. I am inspired to hear of so many who have come alongside to help care for you and your husband. It's very heartwarming!

I, too, decided some time ago to rid myself of the additional baggage of my old books I still had not read after many years. We were getting ready to move and my husband looked at me, then to my books--I got the message!

Although I struggled at first, my iPad with my Kindle and Nook apps comfort me at night. They allow me to pull up most any old book I may be missing and help me feel as though I never lost anything in my decision! I finally feel free of the unwanted weight surrounding me.

Now...if I could only apply that same concept to other areas of my there an app to make all of this other clutter in my life to disappear too? Perhaps even some extra pounds I've accumulated? Just saying! :)

Be blessed, and keep writing when you can. You're an inspiration to us all!

Sandra Stiles said...

I have quite a collection of books and each summer I bring some home from school that students have recommened and then purchase some. When our school needed books to be placed in backpacks I went to my shelves and pulled off 30 books and donated them. If they have been on my shelves for as long as they had without me reading them, I needed to sacrifice them so someone could enjoy them. It felt so liberating. I now have a box to go to my local library.

Samantha Bennett said...

I love the phrase, "Someday I might fit into those books." I definitely feel like different life seasons dictate what's on my book shelf. I'm a new mom, and I'm reading more nonfiction than ever, wanting answers for sleep stuff, discipline stuff, etc. My book shelf definitely looks different than before. And honestly, I'm not reading nearly as much fiction as I used to. I struggle with guilt over this, but someday I'll fit into them again. :) Also, thank you so much for your transparency with this post.