I have lived without TV many times in my life.

Either I didn’t have a television or I didn’t have cable, which never seemed worth the expense to me. When DVDs became available, I started a movie collection for times I wanted visual entertainment. Back in the days when you could still get something to fuzz in on your screen using an antenna, I would occasionally watch something on the four channels.

I admit to being able to get wrapped up in great movies and captivating television shows, but ultimately, if I went to that proverbial desert island without video, I’d survive.

However, if you plopped me on that gorgeous island with a stocked cabana, handsome bartender (ssh, don’t tell my husband), and all the scotch I ever wanted to drink (and the ability to stay sober), if you don’t also provide a vast library, I’ll opt for returning to the mainland in a nanosecond.

I have, you see, never, ever been without a book.

When we were children, the most exciting part of the school year was when the Scholastic Book truck would arrive. Each time, I marveled that our tiny, turn of the (last) century, stone school in the middle of rural western Pennsylvania mining country continued to be found by the driver. He must have consulted map in an atlas about the state! 

Our parents allowed us three kids to pick one book each, so the decision was agonizing. What if that truck didn’t find us the next time? Which one would I choose? Would it be poetry, adventure, riddles?

I’ve gotta make an aside: I wrote that last sentence then traipsed downstairs to see what books I was reading as a grade schooler. Here are the categories:

Scholastic Books

some of my childhood books

Disney books to movies

Poetry

Westerns

Assorted single topics

But the greatest number of books?

Mysteries! That is so not a surprise! Wanna know what some of them are?

Sure you do, I know you do, okay, here they are:

The Midnight Beast (original title Lion at Large) by Richard Parker

Mystery of the Witches’ Bridge (original title, duh, The Witches’ Bridge) by Barbee Oliver Carleton

The Swiss Family Robinson (original title The Swiss Family Robinson—just seeing if you’re paying attention) by Johann David Wyss

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—think my 1965 paperback edition of this classic is worth anything? No, I suppose not.

Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer. Here’s one for you, when the internet first started—yes, there was a time, Millennials, where the world wasn’t at our fingertips—I tracked down Norma and was able to thank her for such a fun book.

Okay, stop pressuring me. Yes, I will add them to my to-re-read shelf and do so before the end of the year. Those kids’ books will make an interesting diversion to my GoodReads Challenge, eh?

Back to the truck

[No, wait, I have one more side note for you. I find it quite hilarious that I have a book from 1967, when I was eight, entitled Too Much Noise. I am sound-sensitive. I sleep with a fan going at home and earplugs anytime I’m not in our abode. Loud noises hurt my ears and children squealing at that wretchedly high pitch of theirs equals inch-long nails on a chalkboard. Mom always said I was the worst sleeper—guess this mini tome backs that statement!]

Now seriously, back to the truck and agonizing decisions.

Believing in the less-is-more mentally, that frugalness restriction on behalf of our parents simply ensured that our books were precious and treated with tender care. The four of us (there’s a sister 10 years younger than me, so she wasn’t part of the truck experience) still have our childhood books. 

Books remain like gold to me and I treasure them. 

Right now I’m reading: 

  • William Shatner’s Up Till Now. Don’t miss it if you want to laugh out loud when you’re supposed to be nodding off to sleep. He’s uniquely hilarious.
  • John Grisham’s The Innocent Man. I’ve been hit and miss with Grisham over his long career. This one, his first non-fiction, is a page turner and quite disturbing.
  • Pierce On’Donnell’s In Time of War: Hitler’s Terrorist Attack on America. Did you know the Germans once landed submarines near Long Island and Florida, letting out several would-be terrorists? I didn’t.
  • Antony Beevor’s The Second World War. It took a year to get through Beevor’s D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, but was so worth it that I’m determined to finish this saga as well.

There’s also a little cozy in there I started last night, but I have a feeling I won’t finish, so I’m not providing the name. It’s one of those books that has, for me, a pedestrian writing style—the character went to work, she went to the store, she went home. I scream out, “What’s the point of the story?” Then I calmly go to Scrivener (writing software), open my novels, and read the first chapters and think: Yes, at least you would know what my books are about. You may not like them, but you would get the gist of the story

There you have it—four books and a Bible study (Women of the Bible). That’s how I roll. In the midst of these, I stopped to read Preston & Child’s, City of Endless Night.

special reading spots

Reading areas on color days

Sunday, it was 86 degrees farenhiet with correspondingly thick humidity, so my typical afternoon doing yard work was out of the question. I flung myself into my favorite easy chair, cool glass of tea at hand, and indulged. In this thrilling, speedy novel, they redeemed themselves from the last two flops. Whew.

Many of my friends are disciplined in their reading. They actually read one book at a time! Can you imagine the self-control they must have to do that! Astounding! Alas, I have tried to stem my yearnings for devouring various genres at the same time. But with the multiple selves I have inside, it seems to work best if I keep at least one book going for serious me, one for laughing me, and one for historian me. I’ve not yet had a problem keeping the stories straight—I don’t think I’m in any danger of suddenly placing Captain Kirk in WWII Europe. So what the heck, I keep at it.

Then I go into elimination mode. 

My household rampages to clear out stuff usually begins with the easiest to part from: clothes we don’t wear, shoes that no longer have any support to them, coffee cups with chips in the rim. These are the easy things—they are donated or tossed, depending on their overall condition. My trash, your treasure, right?

Paperwork is next. I’ve moved so many times over the decades that even this is not that big of a deal anymore. I delightedly shred like an Enron employee—having either chosen to scan that item or have it simply disappear from my life. My load lightens.

I love to purge the unnecessary and the redundant, removing the heaviness of too many objects in my life—but watch out, I occasionally purge people.

Then it comes time to go through bookcases. 

Ah, what agony! What indecision! What pain!

When I left Red Lodge, Montana to move back to Pennsylvania, I assessed the loads stacked on three bookcases and donated or sold over 300 volumes. It hurt. But I lived. I’ve moved five times since I got to Pittsburgh and not having those small, but ever-so-heavy boxes hiding my perfect bound treasures has eased the process.

I’ve been in this home with my husband for ten years. Collecting creeps up on us when we rarely pack up lock, stock, and barrel and go elsewhere. Formerly, each spring and fall, I reviewed my collection, removing book after book from the shelves and assessing each. What ones won’t I read again, what ones haven’t I yet read, what ones are like beloved friends I couldn’t possibly expel from my life?

  My annual book-purge evolved into a continual process with an empty box always sitting by one bookcase. It’s there to remind me when I finish a physical book to pause and think: Will I re-read this? Is there someone I want to pass it along to? Both answers no? Into the box it goes, designated for the Mt. Lebanon Library’s used bookstore.

Then there are e-books.

I love my Kindle because I can get a book right NOW, and I can take a hundred books on vacation and not have to pay to check their own suitcase. I love highlighting a word to learn or confirm its meaning. I love that the Kindle app allows for creating collections. It was also a big help when you could start deleting books. That was an organizational purge I longed to make. There are, sadly, some truly bad books out there and although I’ll try reading almost anything, sometimes they have to go.

I started this year (as I did last year) with a plan.

My goal was to read every book on hand—physical and Kindle—without buying any new ones. By December (and now) I realized I failed. I mean, Michael Connelly releases a new Bosch each autumn and John Sandford is sure to unleash a new Virgil Flowers—please, won’t you, John?

Sigh, I may never get ahead on this goal, but I sure will entertain myself trying.

And you?

Are you a crazed and avid reader? Do you read more than book one at a time in different genres? Do you have one genre you stick to? Do you—horrors!—skip reading entirely and take to the screen instead?

Tell me I’m not alone in my desire to never be without a book.

**

Book reviews can be found here.