Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Marriage of Books: Sarah Moriarty’s Library

Reader:  Sarah Moriarty
Location:  Brooklyn, NY
Collection size:  About 700
The one book I'd run back into a burning building to rescue:  Timing a Century: A History of the Waltham Watch Company by Charles Moore. Moore, my maternal grandfather, wrote business histories. He was a weekend farmer, a devout Quaker, a disciplinarian, and died when my mother was just sixteen.
Favorite book from childhood:  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier or Seaward by Susan Cooper.
Guilty pleasure book:  Be Here Now by Ram Dass or The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (This combination summarizes my personality).

The first time I lived with a boyfriend I knew the relationship was over when I started writing my name in all my books. I had internalized the advice from When Harry Met Sally. Harry tells his newly cohabitating friends to do so in order to avoid inevitably spending a fortune at the firm of “that’s mine, this is yours.” Apparently, the home library of a couple is a barometer for their relationship.

Now I have been married for eleven years to a man I’ve known for two decades, and our collections are seamlessly merged. Of course, there are some obvious distinctions between our books, but that is the nature of our very different tastes. His run to mythology, sci-fi, nonfiction, Modernism, and Buddhism. I am all fiction, creative nonfiction, YA, yoga, parenting, Victorians, Feminism, and Sufism. We overlap most in poetry, and here our collection has no sides or margins or borders or divisions. My Anne Sexton mingles with his e.e. cummings. We have gotten rid of duplicate copies of The Rattle Bag, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Lowell.

There are so many books: books for work, for self-improvement, for career development, for laughs, for cries, uppers, downers, laughers, screamers, gifted books, books written by friends, books about friends, books about books. We settled on an organizational scheme that combines two approaches: the books are separated into categories—poetry, fiction, religion, parenting, writing, education, art, mythology, feminism, young adult, and travel. Each category is then organized by color.

In doing so, I’ve noticed some trends. Often male authors’ titles are in blacks and dark blues, as are the classics and the anthologies. Female authors, like their suffragette sisters, are often in white, along with all the galleys and ARCs (this parallel is a whole other post in and of itself). Many contemporary titles come in vibrant reds and yellows and multiple stripes (Meg Wolizter!). Then there are the horrible primary colors of parenting books, the large spines and looping letters of religion and self-help titles in creams and sepias. There are, interestingly, very few greens (some Sagas, Norse, of course). Also very few pink.

But my library isn’t just a portrait of my relationship (or our society’s perceptions of color), but also of my career. Right after college I moved from Boston to New York and began my internship at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. It was the final years of Roger Straus. The Corrections had come out the year before, and the paperback was released while I clipped articles from magazines for the publicity circulation. From my days in the mines of the publicity department of FSG, I absconded with some of my favorite books like Joseph Brodsky’s Nativity Poems, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, and MFK Fisher’s Serve It Forth.

When I moved on to W.W. Norton and Company, I started to bring home books in earnest to build a collection and keep a record of those I had worked on, even in my peripheral capacity as an editorial assistant. So much flap copy. So many press releases. This explains the slew of galleys on my shelves. While working at Norton I got to meet Vikram Seth, the author of one of my all time favorite books. I was charged with meeting him in the lobby and bringing him up to the 16th floor. In the elevator I rambled on about The Golden Gate. He replied, “that was a long time ago,” by which I think he meant it was not at all the book I ought to be rambling about. The elevator sped on until I realized we had passed our floor. In my fan girl blather I had forgotten to press the button.

Over time I became devoted to other Norton authors like Alice Fulton, Ann Hood, Audre Lorde, and Nick Flynn. Reading these authors convinced me that I needed to be on the other side of the desk and relieved of any public relations responsibilities.

Even the shelves of these great publishing houses paled in comparison to a place I acquired many of my books: the Saint Ann’s School book room. Yes, the pubescent Lena Dunhams of the world have some seriously good book stock. A school that focuses on classic books has all the heavy hitters I had ever meant to read in the bowels of their school basement between the boiler room and the woodshop. I wasn’t sure if I was dizzy and overheated from the joy of being surrounded by the great tomes of literature, or from the poorly ventilated boiler fumes. It was the kind of empty, silent place where probably a murderer was waiting for me around the stacks, but I didn’t care because I was already carrying more books than I could possibly bring home on the subway.

There I truly indulged my obsession with YA books and my devotion to classics: Huckleberry Finn, A Separate Peace, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Boy, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Annie John, and oh so much Shakespeare. Every few weeks I brought home another armload under the guise of “research” and “context.” These books now form a substantial section of my teaching library.

My own YA section is sacrosanct, still devoted to those precious volumes I read when I was young, which hold all the joy of true escape: summer reading. These books—Watership DownThe Dark is Rising series; The Diamond in the Window; The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring; Jacob Have I Loved; The Book of Three series—fueled my obsession with imagery, narrative depth, and complex characters. These are not just books, but talismans. They have given me power and solace. I think that is what all books are meant to do.

Sarah Moriarty is the author of the new novel North Haven, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, daughter, and various fauna.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment