Thursday, April 23, 2020

My Library: Elizabeth Kadetsky’s Suitcase

While on a seven-month Fulbright Nehru fellowship to India this spring, Elizabeth Kadetsky (author of The Memory Eaters) initially packed light when it came to reading material. However, she notes: “I had a box of books shipped to me, and acquired many more, while also shedding books as I finished them. I wound up never finding an apartment on the fellowship, and traveling from place to place to stay in hotels and bed and breakfasts with three suitcases, one entirely filled with books. I got a lot of comments about how heavy it was!”

This is a slightly different My Library post than what we normally see here, but a library is a library is a library, whether it’s at home or abroad, right? Enjoy your armchair travels with Elizabeth as she adapts to being away from her home library for half a year....

Reader:  Elizabeth Kadetsky

Location:  New Delhi, India

Collection size:  At any given time, my traveling collection is about 15 books. When I finish a book, I photograph the pages that have my notes penciled in and give the book away to someone who I think will appreciate it. One of my recipients always gives me another book in return, though, so my suitcase never seems to get any lighter. Many of the books connect to my research topic as a Fulbright Nehru grantee, which is about the global trade in stolen antiquities and the unethical role of museums in supporting it. My five-year-old’s Tintin collection and his Harry Potter: The Philosopher’s Stone are also in there.

The one book I’d run back into a burning building to rescue:  Back home in Pennsylvania, I have a signed mass market paperback edition of Joan Didion’s Play It as it Lays published in 1972. I picked it up in a used bookstore not knowing that it was signed. The bookseller probably also didn’t know that it was signed; it still has the price that I paid for it written on the top right of the flyleaf, 65 cents. The inscription reads, “one day at davis”—which is so quintessentially Didion.

Favorite book from childhood:  Half Magic, by Edward Eager, first published in 1954. I recently picked it up again to read to my son, but the writing style was extremely mannered and British-ish, even though the author was American. Still, all the short stories that I wrote before the age of 12 involved someone discovering something that gave them magical powers (like the coin in Half Magic), but with a caveat (as in Half Magic, in which every desire is granted only halfway), so it had a big influence on me.

My guilty pleasure book:  The Raj Quartet, the four-novel series by Paul Scott about the independence of India, published between 1966 and 1975. I read the entire first volume, The Jewel in the Crown, on the plane to India during my first trip here in 1997. This series is often criticized for its focus on Westerners in India (Salman Rushdie complained that it depicts Indians as “bit players” in their own history), and that is a fair criticism. But, to me, it is the book that illustrates and the critiques the mindset of the British Raj better than any other. For an outsider American with no first-hand experience of colonialism, it provided a searing and justified dissection of everything paternalistic and offensive about British Imperialism in the subcontinent and the shoddy manner in which the British eventually “quit” India in 1947.

Elizabeth Kadetsky’s memoir-in-essays, The Memory Eaters, explores family illness, addiction, inherited trauma, and the secrets of her inherited past. She is also author of the memoir First There Is a Mountain, the short story collection The Poison that Purifies You, and the novella On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World. A professor of creative writing at Penn State and nonfiction editor at the New England Review, she is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Program, MacDowell Colony, and Vermont Studio Center.

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