Rescue! Or At Least Respite

Rescue! Or At Least Respite

 It occurs to me often these days that a  person—or a couple, or a family—should probably move house every ten years or so. But my husband and I live in a congenial   neighborhood of midsized, mostly-1930’s houses where people tend to stay put, with the occasional new roof or  maybe the addition of a room or two. Berkeley is a pleasant   place to live, with good schools, libraries, shops, even music and theater. So we raised our daughters here, and stayed. We retired, and stayed. When we wanted variety and a change of scene, we hitched up our trailer of the time and went east, or north, or south.  Eventually we noticed that we, and probably six other neighbors on this long, curving block, had been here for forty years, or near it.

And when one of these neighbors remarked one day, “My house is full!” I knew she wasn’t talking about people. My house is full, too. My husband, an engineer, throws away nothing that he feels might one day be useful, like jars of small, indiscriminate (to me) screws, or a big flat piece of plywood that once held up a child’s mattress, or the small portable generator that had been replaced by a larger, more efficient one. We have an attic, and what has proved to be storage space under the house, both of these more or less full. So we (he) recently added a storage shed in the back yard.

I have to add that I’m not guilt-free in this tendency to let things accumulate.  Another attractive cooking pot can be an addition instead of a replacement, and old but still useful bowls can be stacked higher in the cupboard when newer, pretty ones turn up. And wine glasses . . .? But my true hoarding instincts have a different, specific aim.

I have been a constant reader since age five, and after haunting libraries as a child, settled into adulthood by buying books—and buying books, and buying books. We moved into this house owning one three-shelf brick-and-pine-boards bookcase, and now we have five floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves and two tall free-standing bookcases.

So, guilt on both sides of the family. But recently, several circumstances caused me, at least, to change course. First, two of my favorite local bookstores folded, and I refuse upon principle to become a steady Amazon purchaser. Then my twice-a-week home-from-home, the Berkeley Public Library north branch, was closed for remodeling—for two years! A five-minutes drive away that was, with easy parking and a grassy lawn, a place to tie the dog and the liklihood of running into friends and neighbors.  The cavernous Berkeley main library is in the midst of the crowded downtown, with parking difficult if not impossible. Misery.

Add to this the fact that, as I mentioned in my last blog, crime fiction, my general entertainment standby, has recently become much bleaker and bloodier.  What to do? And then I looked, really looked, at my own bookshelves. I have mystery novels from Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong, Margery Allingham, P. D. James; John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, K. C. Constantine, Colin Dexter, Tony Hillerman, John LeCarre. And many others. Add to that straight (?) novels from Thomas Pynchon, Anne Tyler, Shelby Hearon, Jane Austen, Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Jim Harrison, John Updike. And many others of those, too. (Didn’t come across John Irving’s blockbuster, The World According to Garp. Perhaps I gave it away.)

And herewith a revelation. It turns out that a good book read maybe twenty years or so earlier can be very fresh.  I just finished, and enjoyed, Because of the Cats, by Nicholas Freeling, set in Amsterdam and published in 1963. I read—re-read—P. D. James’ Death of An Expert Witness, from 1977, and am now half-way through James’ Original Sin,  published in 1994. Really good stuff, and not much of it remembered. (Although I must say I find that James devotes more time to description of surroundings than I really enjoy.)

Add to all this the fact that my shelves contain a small but not insignificant number of  books that I’d bought over the years but had for whatever reason not yet read. Time to try those.

So – for a constant reader, life is again good.



7 Responses

  1. One of the pleasures of getting older is that you can reread all of those great books you read years ago and get so much fresh enjoyment out of them! I just reread Charlotte MacLeod’s “The Family Vault” for my book club and thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I had vague recollections of what happened in it. Rereading an old book can be like revisiting an old friend.

  2. Like you, Janet, even when I “replace” something, I keep the old one, whether it’s a jacket or a tired spatula!

    When it comes to books, though, I “must” have the newest of my favorite authors and my second favorite, and even sometimes my least favorite, just in case. I re-read only if forced by a book club or as a teaching tool. There are too many new books and I’m afraid I’ll fall behind (must reexamine that!).

    • Thanks for responding, and for reminding me of Charlotte MacLeod. I liked her books very much but apparently didn’t buy any. Library time after all, maybe.

    • Actually, I’ve found the re-read is a teaching tool. My first read is generally speedy, wanting to know what’s going to happen. But on the later read, I notice things– like James’ too-much description.


  3. I’m with you, Janet. I like it when I can justify keeping all those books all those years. I had to winnow out my shelves recently, which was painful. But now I have room for new acquisitions, which I can reread in 20 years!

  4. Janet L,
    I, too, love rereading an old favorite. Every few years I must read Gone With The Wind again.
    Janet D

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