I Have No Shelf Control

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I was perusing newspapers and social media sites in the early morning much as I do each day. I saw an ad for a t-shirt emblazoned with the message “I have no shelf control.” Of course, the play on words had to do with buying excessive numbers of books, a habit that I have yet to learn how to curb. I’m a book junkie and have been for most of my life. 

I suspect my love of reading started with my father who had accumulated quite a collection of volumes of his own. His daily habits included listening to music and reading as soon as he came home from work each day. The nightly ritual included scanning the newspaper and sharing the funny papers with me and my brothers. After dinner or on weekends he might immerse himself in a new book or read the latest edition of National Geographic magazine from cover to cover. His taste in reading material was amazingly eclectic and might cover anything from classic fiction to volumes on future travels to the moon in a time before NASA even existed. 

I can’t recall ever passing a bookstore without going inside with my father. Trips to the library were weekend adventures. People still laugh when I tell them that our family’s exploration of Hollywood focused on spending hours in a multi-story shop filled with volumes of every kind. Our souvenirs were texts on how to tie knots and beautifully illustrated fairy tales. 

My father’s father was an avid reader as well, so I suppose that my own addiction to collecting and enjoying books comes naturally. It may not be in my DNA, but it was certainly influenced by my environment. Reading is comforting to me. I can lose myself inside the pages of a good story or recitation of history even when my world is turned upside down. It is a kind of therapy that focuses my mind and lowers my level of anxiety. it keeps me company and reminds me of the feelings and experiences that all humans share. 

My most prized possessions are books that my father and grandfather gave me when I was a young girl. I even have one that belonged to my daddy when he was only a boy. Its pages are brittle, yellowed, tattered and torn. The cover fell off even before my grandmother gave it to me after my father died. She proudly proclaimed that he never stopped reading once he had mastered the art of the process. He even made several failed attempts to teach her how to decipher the combinations of written letters that formed words. She was proud that he had worked to give her the gift of literacy even though the essentials of reading eluded her. 

I often told my students that there was no greater freedom or sign of privilege than knowing how to read. In the long history of the world literacy and education was often denied to all but very wealthy men and a small number of lucky women. Education makes us think and ask questions, a dangerous mix for those who want to stay in power and control certain members of the population. I warned them to beware of anyone who attempted to censor what they might read or even to limit how much education they might receive. 

It saddens me to realize that there are still places in the world were ignorance is forced upon certain members of society. Denying women the right to learn is an abomination. Neglecting to support public education is elitism. Unfortunately such situations are still happening even in our modern world. 

My father encouraged me to be curious. He showed me how fun reading actually is. He wanted me to push myself to be able to comprehend more and more complex ideas. Not long before he died he counseled me to challenge myself more than I had been doing. He explained that the great ideas of history came from tearing down the boundaries of our minds. He encouraged me to never stop reading and learning and to be grateful that I had the skills to become ever more knowledgeable about all facets of the world. 

I suppose that his influence has bolstered me throughout life. I have six large bookshelves scattered through my home. There are books sitting on tables and nightstands. I have volumes stored in drawers and trunks. There are many more texts stored on electronic devices and large baskets under my coffee table. I’ve culled my collection now and again just to make space and each time I have regretted letting any of my books go. I comfort myself in knowing that I have shared my wealth of books with someone else.

I am my father’s daughter. I purchase books for newborn babies. I respond to teachers’ requests for book donations to their classrooms. I buy books on virtually every trip that I take. I have to pay extra fees for the weight added to my suitcase by volumes that I was unable to leave behind. I get a warm feeling sitting in a bookstore or walking around a library. My father’s legacy has brought me much knowledge and contentment. I suppose that I will never have shelf control.

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