(This post first appeared almost exactly a year ago. I’m hoping you won’t mind if I dust it off.)
Last night, I spent some time looking through the files on my computer, hoping to stumble across something that would inspire me to write a post. Maybe a scrap of prose that never quite found a home, or a photo that would cast its line, heavy with bait, and pull an old story from the bottom of my soul. No such luck.
Then I looked at the stack of books on my desk. You know, I forget it sometimes, but a stack of books sitting on my desk or beside my bed – especially works of fiction – is nothing less than a treasure, wrapped in the echo of a personal revolution.
There was a time when it would have been an impossibility. I can explain.
If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you may have come to understand that I was raised by a difficult (let’s embrace the euphemism) woman who was not my mother.
The memory that these books brought to mind was of our rare trips to the public library. I can think of only a handful of visits, certainly no more than five. Our stepmother would walk in with the three of us, and though we were allowed to browse among the shelves, she would remind us that we weren’t allowed to look through the fiction section. At home, there was a selection of religious fiction that she encouraged us to read – books with a clear moral stance and a message. But here, with shelves stacked high and long with stories? Fiction was off-limits. I remember having the general sense that she thought mainstream fiction might corrupt us somehow.
Maybe it was too much work for her to help us find age-appropriate stories? Maybe the idea that we would read something and have questions about it was exhausting to her.
I have a feeling she didn’t want us to know just how big the world was, outside of our house and our church and our small circle of friends. Beyond her reach.
I knew this, even then.
As her daughter, I felt like a lump of clay, malleable, and no bigger than an egg or a small stone. Never bigger than something that she could hold in the palm of her hand. I believe she wanted our lives to remain small, and god knows she may have needed that, too. Did small equal manageable? The things she struggled with, who knew what they were? The answers were beyond us, the soft pads of clay.
She wanted something more for herself than the life she had, I know that much. But I don’t know that she ever wanted more for us, as most parents do for their children.
Books became important to me as soon as I reached high school. How could she argue with required reading? Not only was I supposed to read these books, I was required to think about them and present my ideas (stale as they may have been in high school) about them. I fell in love with stories, and with the hope that one day I could write my own.
So, back to this stack of books next to me. They are mine. I bought them all, and they will be part of my personal library for the rest of my life. Right now, most of my books are packed in boxes, awaiting our move. I miss them. And I continue to buy more, and pack those away, too, after I read them. I am eager for the day when I will unpack them all and arrange them on shelves once again. Maybe by author, maybe by category. Biography. Non-fiction. Poetry. And, yes, fiction, the largest group.
They are mine, and each of them is like a window. I need them around me, to let in light. And darkness, too. Who doesn’t need both light and darkness?
They are windows. Through them, I see the world, and it is big.