Bookshelf Tour – Episode #2

[Second installment of  a series where Calvin inventories the contents of his personal bookshelves as a springboard/excuse for noting some of the important influences on – or relics of – certain life (or at least reading) experiences, choices, beliefs, and values. This series also constitutes a record of The Great Bookshelf Purge of 2014. You can read the previous installment here.]

Bookcase Set 009Books on the middle shelf in this photo that I’ve read:

This is My Beloved: Poems (1967) by Walter Benton. I can’t remember whether I bought this for my then-fiance (and later wife) Peg, or whether she gave it to me. I’ve kept it as a relic of that happy time, but I don’t remember any of it (the poems, not the time). In any case, because of its sentimental value and because of its unusual format (a “diary in verse”), I plan to read it again someday.

The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (1967) and A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (1969) by Peter Berger. I first stumbled upon Berger’s works during a course I took at Columbia University in the summer of 1968, and they, along with Thomas Luckmann’s The Invisible Religion (1967), plus a book Luckmann co-authored with Bergman, The Social Construction of Reality (1966),  struck me as revelations. Their insights dovetailed perfectly with what I had been learning, to my astonishment, in my undergraduate courses in the history of Christianity.  Because Berger (and Luckmann) were such pivotal liberators from my childhood-long indoctrination in the Baptist version of Christianity, I will be keeping their books on my bookshelf. (Meanwhile, a few years ago, I read Berger’s autobiography.)

The Oxford Annotated Bible: Revised Standard Version (1962); The New English Bible: New Testament (1961); Into the Worldwind: A Translation of the Book of Job (1979) by Stephen Mitchell; The Voice Out of the Whirlwind: The Book of Job: Materials for Analysis (1960) by Ralph E. Hone. I purchased all but one of these books while I was an undergraduate minoring in the history of Christianity. Although I must’ve read at least the non-genealogical sections of the Bible ten times over during my aforementioned indoctrination in the Christian religion, I don’t remember consulting any of these tomes since – even the two about Job, whose legend is, I think, one of the most compelling ones included in the Bible. I’ll be keeping only the Oxford, but I’ll also be relocating it to another bookshelf in my house where I keep reference works, freeing up space in the living room bookcase for something more useful.

The Devil’s Dictionary (1906) and Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults (1909) by Ambrose Bierce. These are the two books I own that were written by one of the authors in my personal literary Pantheon. (If I ever locate a copy of Bierce’s complete works, I’ll be buying that to replace these paperbacks.) My well-worn copy of the Dictionary I must’ve bought decades ago (the cover price is 95 cents!). The other Bierce compendium was to be a thank-you gift to a book editor acquaintance of mine who treated me to lunch in New York a few years ago. He had chaired a panel of judges for a GLBTQ literary award, and had recruited me for the panel; I’d finally met him on a subsequent trip to Manhattan. However, I never got around to mailing this hilarious book to that book editor, and the fact that he’s retiring later this year, and will no longer have the need to refer to it, is the perfect pretext for keeping this gem in my library!

The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (1994) by Sven Birkerts is my paperback version of the library copy I read during the infancy of the Internet Age. Birkerts writes beautifully (a collection of his essays on other topics was, incidentally, the single book I managed to read during a vacation trip on an English canal boat a few years ago), so I’m keeping this book to re-read one day to see if Bikerts’ analysis holds up after a few more decades worth of the e-book phenomenon.

Bureaucracy in Modern Society (1956) by Peter M. Blau is one of the few books I’ve ever filled with underlinings (or highlightings) and marginal exclamations. I don’t know how I came to own this paperback, but glancing at a few of the marked passages, I can see why never discarded it: it’s excellently written and incredibly concise (only 130 pages, including notes and list of suggested readings). If I hang onto it even longer, I’ll be able to treat myself to the masochistic experience of re-reading it after completing careers in two humongous bureaucracies (as a functionary in a state-operated mental health treatment and mental health treatment administration system and, later, as a librarian in a large urban public library system). In any case, reading this book (whenever I first read it) must’ve been partly responsible for my long-standing hatred of hierarchies and my equally long-standing practice of turning down repeated opportunities for promotions into management positions (…until I got tired of psychos getting too many of those deliberately eschewed-by-me promotions).

I Didn’t Come Here to Argue (1954) and I Try to Behave Myself: Peg Bracken’s Etiquette Book (1959) by Peg Bracken. I can’t remember when I stumbled across Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book (which I also own, and that I keep in my kitchen along with my other cookbooks), but I certainly enjoyed all of her books (including another I don’t own but remember reading with relish, The I Hate to Housekeep Book). Bracken’s Phyllis Dilleresque approach to domestic bliss would constitute Martha Stewart’s worst nightmare; fortunately f0r Bracken’s readers (and for Martha), there was no Martha Stewart publishing empire in the 1950s.  Hoping that Bracken’s hilarious prose will withstand a re-reading after fifty years have elapsed, I’m going to transfer these two paperbacks to my humor/poetry/nature bookcase at the cabin.

The October Country (1955), Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), and The Halloween Tree (1972) by Ray Bradbury. I’ve read several other books by Bradbury (Farenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man) but these are the ones I bought when I was thinking that I might want to collect all of his work. Not only did I not end up collecting Bradbury, but I never got around to reading all his novels, including the more famous ones like The Martian Chronicles. I like Bradbury’s fantasy novels more than his science fiction, despite the fact that for several years when I was a teenager I was a proud and money-spending member of the Science Fiction Book Club.  (During that halcyon era, A.E. van Vogt was my favorite author. I either eventually gave away his and the other SFBC’s books, or they’re somewhere in my attic, waiting for me to donate them somewhere.) For reasons I don’t totally understand, science fiction and fantasy are genres I’ve not read any further examples of during the past forty years – with a single exception: Jack Finney’s riveting Time and Again (1995).  When I read these fantasies by Bradbury, I distinctly remember thinking his prose style was, especially for a science fiction/fantasy writer, poetic and mesmerizing; I’ll be keeping these paperbacks in case I decide some day to see if I still think so…of if I was simply a very imaginative teenager. In any case, I was thrilled, later in my life, to see Bradbury become a vocal, compelling advocate for public libraries (some of his more memorable public statements are included in my other blog’s Bookish Quotations), and to learn recently that a branch library in Los Angeles was named in his honor.

Books on the middle shelf in this photo that I haven’t yet read:

Chips off the Old Benchley (1949) by Robert Benchley. I don’t know when or where I bought this book, but I do know why I must’ve bought it: because so many writers claim that Benchley is the funniest writer they know of. This is a collection of previously uncollected pieces (stories, satirical essays, and play reviews); I’ll be relocating it to my bookshelf at the cabin where I keep most of my poetry and humor (hoping that I’ll make more time there to read those things than I seem to find at home).

Make Way for Lucia: The Complete Lucia (1977) by E.F. Benson. My friend Max Clore, who died suddenly a few years ago, was a Lucia fanatic, and Max’s evangelizing about Benson was how I first learned about Benson myself. I seem to remember listening to a Benson audiobook a while back (or was that a Wodehouse story I’m remembering?), but my hardback copy of Make Way (a library book sale purchase) turned out to be far too unwieldy for me to dip into. So I’m purging it from my library and will relocate to my bookshelf at the aforementioned cabin the paperback version of “Part V” of this compendium, The Worshipful Lucia, which I also somehow came into possession of.

The Handbook of Political Fallacies (1824) by Jeremy Bentham. I must’ve bought this still-unread-by-me paperback during my undergraduate days, when my generation was in the midst of its full-bore disgust with the U.S. politicians of the late 1960s. Although the subject matter is bound to be as infuriating today as it was in Bentham’s time (or in the 1960s), Bentham’s classification of the various logical fallacies so prevalent in political discourse (if it could be dignified with such a term) looks intriguing, and his prose style promises to be felicitous. I’ll keep this in case I can someday steel myself to read it.

The Long-Legged House (1971) and Andy Catlett: Early Travels (2006) by Wendell Berry. Because Kentucky-based Berry ranks as The Living Prophet Most Revered by Cal, I intend to one day read all of his wonderfully articulate and radically sensible essays (and to re-read House, which is an early collection). But I’ll be purging Andy Catlett from my library, as I’ll want to first read Berry’s other novels (Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow) before I read this one. (That is, if I end up reading Berry’s novels at all: sometimes, alas, great essayists are not the best novelists – although, in Berry’s case, he also happens to be a pretty good poet.)

You Can’t Win: The Autobiography of Jack Black (1988). Before my brother Michael gave me this book for my birthday in 2012, I’d never heard of Jack Black or his book, but I’ll be keeping this in my library to read one day because Mike doesn’t often recommend books to me, and because he inscribed it as “one of my favorite books of all time…”

The Light Around the Body: Poems (1967) by Robert Bly. Because I want to have all the published output of any poet whose poems I like, I don’t normally buy books of poems by living poets who I don’t know personally, so someone might have given me this as a present. Bly looks so young in the back-cover photo!

The Cost of Discipleship (1937) and I Loved This People (1964) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and The Place of Bonhoeffer: Problems and Possibilities in His Thought (1963) edited by Martin E. Marty. Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German preacher and theologian – and co-conspirator of a plot against Hitler’s life – who the Nazis executed at Himmler’s express order a few days before the Germans surrendered. What I learned as an undergraduate about Bonhoeffer’s life and his theology instantly catapulted him into hero status for me (who was then still a believer). Although my eventual disenchantment with the Christian religion (and with organized religion in general) makes it unlikely that I will ever read these books, it’s impossible for me to purge any book Bonhoeffer wrote from my library (especially the second one, which is mainly a collection of his writings from Gestapo prisons and concentration camps). Bonhoeffer’s intelligence and courage are that inspiring. My mom miraculously remembered my love of Bonhoeffer when the library of the church she once attended was selling some of its discards: that’s where these three came from – a (no doubt message-encoded) gift from her (a devout Baptist) to me (who, much to her dismay, has strayed from the fold).

Healing the Shame the Binds You (1988) by John Bradshaw. I’m not sure I actually read this book, but I can guess that I bought it sometime during the five year period I spent attending weekly sessions of the local GLBTQ chapter of Adult Children of Alcoholics. This was when and where (thanks to the initial invitation to those meetings by my friend Max Clore) I first encountered and then began to better understand the role of codependence in my early upbringing. To my horror, and unbeknownst to me, I had dragged many of those patterns into my adult relationships. From that pivotal (if not entirely successful) period of “recovery” (1986-1991), my admittedly fluctuating consciousness of codependency patterns has been a useful and reliable tool in my attempts at more mindful behavior. I doubt if I’ll keep Bradshaw’s book in my library any longer, but I know dozens of people who would benefit from reading it, or, better, from reading Melanie Beattie’s Codependent No More (1986).

Nonbook objects on this shelf (as pictured left to right):

  • Framed print

Michael Richmond is an artist friend who lives in Charleston, who, along with Michael’s wife Lynn, my Atlanta friend Kris introduced me to. Charleston is one of my favorite cities to visit, and Michael and Lynn have hosted me and Kris, or me and Larry and Kris, several times, and we try to get together with them whenever they visit Atlanta. Michael’s pencil drawings are stunning: they look like photographs, but uncannily they aren’t! I couldn’t afford an original, but I did want a reminder of Michael and his talent, so at one of his Charleston shows I bought this copy of Michael’s 2005 rendering of the top of a Corinthian column holding up a roof of one of the town’s historic buildings. It’s one of the few pieces of non-mass-produced art I own, one of the fewer framed pieces I own, and one of the even fewer pieces whose creators I know personally. It makes me smile whenever I see it, and it’s only in my bookcase because I haven’t yet found the perfect spot on one of my walls to hang it.

  • Ceramic vase

I can’t remember where I bought this piece; my guess is that I got it at The New Gallery on one of my many trips to Asheville sometime during the three years (1986-89) that I was making regular visits to that city while my former partner Larry was a student at UNC-Asheville. I rarely buy pottery (it’s always so expensive!) – but I’ve had this piece for at least twenty years, and still love the way its creator pressed leaves into the clay, causing their imprints to remain after the vase was fired. Was it my love of all things autumnish (or autumn-colored) and/or all objects decorated with leaves or ferns that prompted me to bring this home? Probably, plus I love the chunky heft of it, and its tallish, slim, vertical shape. I couldn’t bear to hide it away in the trunk-like box out on the sunporch where I stash my other plant-holders, so I keep it in my bookcase instead, and I can notice it periodically all year round.

  • Column capital-themed glass vase (?), topped by a malleable puzzle made of wire

I’m a sucker for architecturally themed objects, and an ancient residue of wax at the bottom of this one tells me I once used it as a candle holder. I’m also partial to clever puzzles and just about anything made of wire: this one can be morphed into a sphere, a cylinder, a sort of star-shaped something-or-other, and God knows what else. For a time I keep these puzzles on my coffee table (at the moment you’d find a puzzle made of zillions of tiny magnetic balls), but they eventually make their way onto my bookshelf where mystified or intrigued passers-by can pluck them down and fiddle with them.

  • Miniature cast-iron urn, topped by a painted wooden egg nested in a bit of sparkly netting

I can’t afford full-sized cast-iron urns, so I content myself with buying multiple tiny ones: there’s something about any urn’s shape that remains mysteriously alluring to me. (Perhaps my attaction to urns is merely a matter of their reference to the classical style?) At some point, having run out of space, I plopped into this particular and then-empty urnlette a wad of glitter-embedded cloth that I couldn’t bear to throw out, and later the decorated wooden egg migrated to the top of the urn as well. At one point long ago, I considered the prospect of collecting decorated eggs. After beholding the formidable collection a friend of mine had long ago assembled (and displayed in their own gorgeous glass cabinet), I abruptly gave up the collecting ambition, but I did keep the few decorated wooden, metal, porcelain, and marble eggs I’d already purchased or had been given as presents. This one is one of my faves, probably because it is daubed with a burgundy highlights, and burgundy is one of my two favorite colors (the other favorite being purple).

  • Silver-plated antique pitcher

I don’t remember the year I found – in a now-longer-existing gift store – this lovely object, but I do remember the circumstances. It was on display on top of a couple of antique books, holding a tiny but completely charming posy of fresh violets. After fondling the pitcher for many minutes trying to talk myself into buying it, I reluctantly left it at the store, considering it “too expensive” for my budget. I spent the next two days convincing myself that I “deserved” to spend whatever it happened to cost. Miraculously, when I returned to the store, it was still there. I’ve never been happier with any purchase of such a small object. I’ve since used it to hold violets from my own garden, and it’s migrated from room to room over the years before ending up (?) in the bookcase. To me this small object represents all things Victorian, civilized, and graceful that I can’t afford to own, but love the sight of…and it reminds me that I should probably buy at least some of the things I probably “can’t afford” because of all the sheer pleasure I will get out of having them (and noticing and re-noticing them) if I do go ahead and plunk down the cash.

  • Miniature lamp-shaped artificial candle

A gift years ago from my sister Gayle, and one of many QVC products Gayle has given me over the many years she’s been one of QVC’s favorite customers. This battery-operated, vanilla-scented candle is adorable (the “lampshade” glows from within), but I keep forgetting to turn it on – which is a pity as it’s one of the few candles I can safely illuminate inside the bookcase!

  • Miniature temple facade

Behind the other objects in the photo is another one: a ten-inch tall, very heavy paperweight – or maybe it’s half of a pair of bookends? Anyway, a decorative knick-knack made to resemble a highly stylized version of the front of a Greek temple. There’s still a price tag stuck to the bottom of it, and, given its rather crude design, I’m surprised I forked over $22 for it (apparently, at a thrift store, in April 2004). My aforementioned fondness for All Things Architectural is my only excuse for buying such an ill-made thing. (No wonder it ended up mostly hidden behind other stuff.) Will I get rid of it? Probably not: it looks OK from a distance!

Upshot of Inventory of Shelf #2 (of 28):

  • # Books relocated:  4  [Running total:  4]
  • # Books purged:  7  [Running total: 15]
  • # Titles from this shelf added to the catalog of Cal’s personal library: 15  [Running total: 47]
  • # Nonbook objects relocated from this shelf:  1  [Running total:  1]
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