Ah! The joys and tribulations of being surrounded by stacks of books at my bedside, my husband’s bedside, books tucked into every available nook and cranny, piled high on every tabletop and stacked double on every shelf, making it impossible to navigate around safely without worrying that one of my beloved five-pound books might tumble on my head and cause fatal injury.
It wasn’t always like this, mind you. I lived in a house with my kids, more bedrooms to hoard books in, more space to be in the company of such eminent writers as Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, Donna Tartt, John Rechy, Julian Barnes, Shalom Auslander, Jonathan Kirsch, Leslie Monsour … well, you get my gist.
But then, life happened and the kids left home. I bade farewell to some of my books, packed them in forty-three boxes, rented a van, and delivered them to my local library. They were very grateful at the library, and I was happy my books found a worthy home. The rest of my books, too precious to part with — the signed ones, the inherited ones, the ones written by colleagues or gifted to me by friends, and the ones that carried long-ago memories that traced the path of my life — moved with my husband and me to an apartment. Space, alas, became scarce. Kindle helps, but only so much, since I can’t imagine banishing my cherished books from my home, after which it would not feel like home.
The solution came to me at three a.m. one morning, when on my way to the bathroom I fractured my foot tumbling over The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It’s a big book of 784 pages that’s worth its heft in gold. The prose sparkles with vividly painful imagery. It is the story of 13-year-old Theo Decker, who survives an accident that kills his mother and derails his life in heart-wrenching ways. I highly recommend this literary coup from the talented Donna Tartt, which I should not have left at the foot of my bed in the first place. Not that the stack of books on my bedside table isn’t an eternal threat anyway, despite my best efforts to reduce the books to a manageable number.
For example, just a few of the books by my bedside now are Leslie Monsour’s The House Sitter, a compilation of poems, which was awarded First Prize in the 2010 Open Chapbook Completion. With deep, touching compassion and sensitivity, Monsour’s poems tackle life, emotions, and our intimate struggles. I tend to go back to these poems whenever I’m sad or happy or just need inspiration. Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers took me back to 70 C.E, when 700 Jews, threatened by Roman invasion, displayed extraordinary courage at Masada. The paths of four extraordinary women intersect in this story of courage and profound love. The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, A Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris by Jonathan Kirsch sheds fresh and essential light on the horrifying atrocities of the Nazis and the heroic act of an unknown German-Polish refugee, who changes the course of history. Grynszpan’s story unfolds with all the twists and turns of a page-turning thriller. Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement is next on my list.
My bedside stack also includes a few research books for my novel, Scent of Butterflies, such as History of the Persian Empire by A. T. Olmstead, another 568-page book that serves as a reminder of the past glory of the Persian Empire — from Darius the Great and the Achaemenid Empire, the Persian rule of Greece, and the burning of Persepolis by Alexander the Great. Here are more books about Iran and the 1979 Islamic revolution, about butterflies and their many fascinating habits, and about the Amorphophallus-titanum, or corpse flower, a rare plant that has an aversion to blooming (butterflies and the corpse flower play important roles in Scent of Butterflies). More books tower at my bedside, trust me, than the word count in this article will allow me to mention. And I haven’t even revealed the solution that came to me that fateful night when I tumbled over The Goldfinch and fractured my foot.
So, the solution, my friends, is to whip our bodies into shape, sign up for aerobic, yoga, stretching, dancing, tai chi, spin, Pilates, whichever workout you prefer. Avid readers require a supple, well-exercised body to tiptoe around gingerly, as well as bend and twist and sprint out of harm’s way, so as not to disturb our precious cohabitants.
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