Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Jumbled Pile of Books: Alyson Foster’s Library

Reader:  Alyson Foster
Location:  Silver Spring, Maryland

Collection Size:  Somewhere in the vicinity of 300 books.

I used to have a lot more, but after several back-breaking moves, I vowed to be much more stringent about which books I hang on to. If the book is something I know I’ll want to read again, if it has passages in it that stop me in my tracks, sentences that I underline and want to remember, then I add it to my collection. If not, then it goes on the book giveaway shelf of the library where I work.

I also used to be very systematic about how I organized my books – I had a poetry section, a short story collection section, a Great Works of Literature section, a modernist section, and so on, but that’s sort of gone to the wayside. I had a baby last year, so often the books I’m reading get jumbled into piles of Goodnight Moon, and Blueberries for Sal and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It seems like a metaphor for the chaos of life in general these days.

The one book I’d run back into a burning building to rescue:  My copy of Moby-Dick. The book itself is nothing special – it’s a beat-up 1956 Riverside edition that’s held together with packing tape – but it has a lot of sentimental value. It belonged to my grandfather, and then my dad inherited it, before I somehow wound up with it. It has my grandfather’s notes in the margins, as well as the ones I added as I’ve read and re-read it in the years since college. I would have loved to discuss Melville with my grandfather – he died before I got around to reading it. He was a minister in his younger years and I know he would have had a lot of interesting things to say about it.

Favorite book from childhood:  This is a hard one to pick. There were so many books that made such a searing impression on me as a kid. That’s actually one of the things I miss most about childhood. I read lots of great books now, of course, but most of them don’t affect me in quite the same overpowering way.

I was obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie books for several years. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I got into The Dark is Rising. My son was really sick last summer and was on a ventilator for a week. I spent a number of hours with him in the ICU reading him that book, so it’s fresh in my mind now.

When I got a little older I really loved Katherine Patterson’s Jacob Have I Loved. I still think of that book sometimes and how it does such a phenomenal job of capturing the conflicted feelings and loneliness of adolescence.

Guilty pleasure book:  Hmm… I don’t think many of the books I read these days would really fall into the “guilty pleasure” category. Which isn’t to say that I don’t read self-indulgent stuff – most of it is just time-killing articles online. I’m actually sort of addicted to advice columns. I think the writer in me is drawn to mulling over other people’s strange situations and self-inflicted predicaments. One of these days I’m going to write a short story about an advice columnist.

Alyson Foster is the author of the forthcoming short story collection, Heart Attack Watch and the novel, God is an Astronaut. Her work has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Kenyon Review, and The Iowa Review. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband and her son. You can find out more about Alyson on her website.

My Library is an intimate look at personal book collections.  Readers are encouraged to send high-resolution photos of their home libraries or bookshelves, along with a description of particular shelving challenges, quirks in sorting (alphabetically? by color?), number of books in the collection, and particular titles which are in the To-Be-Read pile.  Email for more information.

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