Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Dead Man’s Books: Jennifer Spiegel’s Library

Reader:  Jennifer Spiegel
Location:  Phoenix, Arizona
Collection Size:  No real clue.
The one book I'd run back into a burning building to rescue:  None. See below. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love them.
Favorite book from childhood:  I actually saved a ton for my kids, but my favorites are the Oz Books by L. Frank Baum. I’m pretty sure they changed my life. I love them so much.
Guilty pleasure book:  Maybe The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I’ve also been known to read a zombie novel or two, though I think I’ve met my quota and I’m done. Oh, and I like political memoirs. And U2 coffee table books. I see a coffee table book next to me, and it’s about Tiny Houses.

I love my nonsensical, random collection of books. My shelves cannot purport to be a library. That’s too noble. I do, however, have a house full of books.

I had a sobering moment in 2015. In the late spring of that year, I helped my mom pack up and officially downsize. She’d been a widow since 2002, and she had lived in the same house since the seventies. Both of my parents were avid readers (though I spent a great deal of time making fun of my dad’s James Michener habit and all of those Cold War thrillers that were turned into Cold War movies). She was moving to a guest house, and she’d hold onto a handful of books collected over a lifetime.

She picked out her keepers. I scavenged and pulled out a few, like Leon Uris’s QB VII, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, and Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. And then I took boxes and boxes and boxes to sell at a used bookstore. It wasn’t because we didn’t love them; it was because we had no room for them. I must’ve had that Sybil book in there (Flora Rheta Schreiber), and Alex Haley’s Roots. James Clavell’s Shogun. Ken Follett, Mario Puzo, Norman Mailer, John Le Carré, too. Maybe one woman: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. All of these books, these special and beloved books, these demarcations of eras and these veritable points on a map. A lot of my father.

I packed them in boxes.

I loaded them into my car.

I drove to a bookstore.

And they gave me a couple of bucks for them.

That was my sobering moment.

You Can’t Take It With You.

I still keep my books. Most of them, anyway. I still believe in houses full of books. Shelves runneth-ing over. But—and I do not say this lightly—I might value them a little less than I once did. (I might be crying as I write this.)

I will, though, still say this boldly, brazenly: Shame on you if you do not own books.

So, in lieu of a library, I offer you this vision of my shelves.

My beloved travel books, disorganized, with a smattering of others like a Rolling Stone picture book and the scripts to sex, lies, and videotape and Do The Right Thing. That Let’s Go Europe book is from 1990, and readers of my new novel might note its treasured role.

Selected Books-I-Must-Save. Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Salman Rushdie’s Fury and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and B.J. Novak’s One More Thing. Please note that Ta-nehisi Coates is next to Rick Springfield. I think that Coates’ book is the definitive book on the Obama years. I can’t explain Rick Springfield (we go back) except to say this:

These are mostly my kids’ books: Harry Potter, Little House on the Prairie, and Oz. Below that are the textbooks from my MA program in International Relations, from my defunct politics days.

And these are books that I will undoubtedly make my kids read. Many classics. A lot of Hemingway. Bleak House. Cry, The Beloved Country. Catch-22. The Good Earth. Wait! And what’s that I see? Mockingjay? (And a little stack of my books.)

My kids. I do not have an Allegiant-thing. Sesame Street, yes. Allegiant, no.

You have the Childcraft books, right? I mean, we all do, yeah?

Miscellaneous! Because sometimes you want poetry and sometimes you want Disney and sometimes you want Leaves of Grass, the Bible, and U2.

I fill shelves. Some of my shelves are from Ikea. Some are from friends who were getting rid of them. Some are nice. We even have a secret door in our house, a passageway.

But when I die, you can take my books. They are yours.

Jennifer Spiegel is mostly a fiction writer with three books and a miscellany of short publications, though she also teaches English and creative writing. She is part of Snotty Literati, a book-reviewing gig, with Lara Smith. She lives with her family in Arizona. More information is available at And So We Die, Having First Slept, a new novel, is about marriage, youth, middle-age, Gen X, and fidelity. Currently, Spiegel is working on a memoir, Cancer, I'll Give You One Year: A Non-Informative Guide To Breast Cancer, or Cancer, I'll Give You One Year: How To Get Your Ba-Da-Bing Boobies On The House!

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.

1 comment:

  1. I ran out of room long ago, now im simply waiting for one of the kids to leave home so I can turn their room into a library!

    Thanks for sharing.
    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out