There’s a book of my father’s that I often return to: Classical Rhetoric. It was one of the first books he used to teach a course by the same name more than 50 years ago. Heady, boring stuff, I guess. Aristotle and the art of persuasion. Syllogisms. Fallacies. Ad Hominem. I know exactly where that old book sits—right on the second shelf of my skinny black IKEA bookcase in the backroom. Even before I open Classical Rhetoric’s familiar blue cover with its well-worn spine, I can already see in my mind’s eye my dad’s red underlining of key phrases and vocabulary words—prima facie, logos, pathos, see the certain slant of his cursive, the all-caps of his printing. A note to himself in the margin: “WRITE ON THIS IN CLASS.”
Truth be told, Marie, it’s been a few years, maybe more, since I actually opened this book. I know you say in your Tidying Up book that one should have no more than 30 books at a time, that if it doesn’t “spark joy,” it’s a goner. But I was wondering, have you ever read Mary Oliver? She’s on my “favorites” bookcase, right next to the skinny one, second shelf, right in the middle. Listen to what Mary says about her “friend” Walt Whitman: “I never met any of my friends, of course, in a usual way—they were strangers, and lived only in their writings. But if they were only shadow-companions, still they were constant, and powerful, and amazing.” That’s how I feel about my books.
The truth is that I have books that I might not pick up for years; then, suddenly, something—a project or need to re-read—sends me scurrying to my shelves, scanning, searching….“Ah, here it is.” I crack open the cover, skim the pages. Look, here’s what one-year-ago me underlined, five-year-ago me highlighted, and ten-year-ago me scribbled in the margins. You see, Marie, ALL these books do indeed spark joy in me. I need them, Marie. I truly need them.
Ok, wait, that’s not entirely true. If I really think about it, maybe some of these books can go. You’re right. Here, take The Woman in the Window (apparently, the author’s a liar) and Dogtripping—never read it.
But these other ones? Definitely NOT Tiny Beautiful Things, The Wright Brothers, H is for Hawk, The Black Penguin, Sonia Sotomayor, Presence, Golden Hill, Cathedral in the Sky, The Power, When Breath Becomes Air, Team of Rivals, The Book of Joy, The Wave in the Wind, Bird by Bird, The Undergound Railroad, Find a Way, My Ex-Life, The Last Lecture, Callings, American Heritage Dictionary, News of the World, The Old Man, On Living, The Door, Our Souls at Night, The Girls, Lab Girl, and Dog Songs. And NOT those on that bookshelf over there, and those on my night stand, and that pile on the floor. Joy, joy, joy—every one. And you know what, Marie, on second thought I’m also keeping The Woman in the Window and Dogtripping.
I don’t want to leave you completely empty-handed, so, look, go ahead and take that old Dutch doll quilt that my mother-in-law made, take my daughter’s Nutcracker tutu from fifth grade, take my husband’s little league baseball uniform—the one from the year his team never won a single game—take that little vintage pitcher with Shirley Temple’s face stamped on the side. Go ahead. They’re yours. But, my dearest Marie, you will never get my books. Not now. Not ever.
Gosh, you’ve been a real sport about this, and because you’ve listened so politely, I’d like to give you something in return: the latest reviews of the next books that I’m going to line my shelves with. Sure, there’s not any room on my bookshelves, but that table over there will work, and the floor will suffice just fine in a pinch, and, Tra-la, I can always get more bookshelves. In fact, I’ve got YOUR book on the bottom shelf of that skinny black IKEA bookshelf that houses my dad’s book. Yours is kind of tucked behind some other titles, but I know it’s there. And I’m openminded, so, who knows, maybe someday you’ll move to my favorites bookcase. But for now, you’re staying right where you are. And rest assured, Marie, I will never throw you out. Not now. Not ever. I hope that sparks joy in YOU!