Friday, April 6, 2012

Flown Again

by Sheila Connolly

My daughter has moved out of the family home—again. When she went off to college, I thought we had done our "empty nest" thing. Then after college she had no firm plans about her next step, so she moved in with us again (note: this is not the house or the town she grew up in). She found a job, made friends, and saved her money. But she's young (to me, under thirty seems young) and unencumbered, and I was happy to support her urge to fly. So a little over a week ago, she packed up her car (with 240,000 miles on it) and headed west for Urbana, to a new life.

And we've been dealing with the "empty nest" issue all over again. This time it feels more final, because when she was in college she was only two hours away, and we exchanged visits regularly. Urbana is about 18 hours away, so it's a little harder to drop in.

But that "empty" is relative, because when she filled up the car, there was a lot of stuff left over, and it's all sitting here where she left it.

What does one's "stuff" say about a person? If you were forensically-minded, you would look at the evidence and say: she likes clothes and books. Her taste in clothes turned out to be very classic and conservative, and I sometimes regret we are not the same size, because I'd be happy to wear some of them.

Ah, but then there are the books. Since she was working in a bookstore the books were kind of inevitable. She's also my daughter, so I'm forced to conclude that book-hoarding is hereditary.

What can you learn about someone's personality from what s/he reads? My daughter was a comparative literature major in college (which may explain why her career path is a bit muddy), and she also favored contemporary poetry. In addition, she would bring home from the bookstore a variety of ARCs and remaindered books that looked interesting, many of which I read. It's a mixed blessing: if I like the book, I feel reluctant to buy a "real" copy when it's finally issued because I already have it, albeit in a sometimes dilapidated form. And if I happen to run into the author at an event, s/he may wonder about me when I say I loved the book, when it came out only two days earlier—and also wonder why I'm not buying a signed copy direct from their very own hands. It's happened.

My daughter and I have had some spirited conversations about writing and books. She claimed that genre (e.g., romance and mysteries) are to be scorned, although I'm not sure how she would define "literature," or even a "good" book. She has never read any book I have written (that she would admit to, at least). Yet for all of that, she once texted me from New York to say she had just walked by Mary Higgins Clark on the street. What? How did she recognize her?

What we share is the inability to get rid of any book we have chosen. I know when I was her age, I reread a lot of books, partly because I couldn't afford new ones, and partly because I continued to derive something from a book each time I read it. I could do that more easily now because I manage to forget a lot about any book I read these days (my current benchmark for a good book is whether I remember it after I've put it down), but I don't do much re-reading because there are new books coming out all the time. So many books, so little time.

Someday my daughter may inherit the books I've collected, and they number in the thousands, I'm afraid. She could probably write a profile of me, based on those that I've kept: a science fiction phase; a smattering of feminist/women's fiction, mainly from the 70s; the requisite collection of classics, old and modern; and of course, a lot of mysteries, starting from the beginning.

When you visit someone's home for the first time, do you check out what books they have on their shelves? And what does that tell you?


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Don'tcha hate it when your children won't read your books? What is wrong with them?

Jerry House said...

I always check out the books. Major negative points if there aren't any.

Sheila Connolly said...

Jerry, my sister has about three books in her entire house (although she does read mine). I sometimes wonder if we're really related. We both grew up around books--my mother and grandmother were avid readers, although they preferred historical fiction.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I always look first at someone's bookshelves, out of curiosity to see what they're reading and then to find new titles for me to read. I don't change my opinion of someone based on what they have on their shelves, but if they have nothing on their shelves . . .

I am also a regular weeder-out of books--to sell to second hand stores or to donate to book sales. I look at my bookshelves and see my retirement account. But I have a lot of really good books too.

Sandra Parshall said...

Books are magnets I can't resist. NO books in a house? That's sad, and gives me serious doubts about the person inhabiting the space. We have books in every room of the house, but I'm getting better about letting go of those I have no further use for.

Dru said...

I always look for a bookcase when I visiting someone's home and then check out the books. If it's a book I read, I'll mention what I thought of it.

If I don't see a bookcase or books in someone's home, I know they're not a reader, although with e-books, I would have to look for an e-reader.

Due to space limitations, I've had to get rid of my books. Now I don't worry so much with my e-books.

Leslie Budewitz said...

My husband sees patients in our home two days a week, and has lost count of how many look at the long wall of books in our entry and ask with astonishment "Have you read all those?" He explains that about a third are mine (more of mine upstairs), and yes, he really has. Well, don't you WANT your doctor well-read? (They are mostly medical books.)

A doctor and a lawyer who both write. Thank goodness the house has a double foundation on that end! (And no, we didn't plan it that way.)

Sheila Connolly said...

I should add that most of my books are upstairs, except for useful references like medieval maps and bird identification. So the upstairs is loaded, and I keep a watchful eye on my original Victorian plaster ceilings. At least they built houses like this to last, but a ton or so of books is a lot to ask. I'll start weeding out as soon as I can find a way to get to the bookscases, now blocked by many many boxes (yes, some with books in them)!

Julia Buckley said...

Is that Urbana, Illinois--or some other Urbana? :)