Thursday, November 20, 2008

My Reproachful Bookcase

Yesterday's post made me think about my grad school days, and then, later, as I sat at work, I looked at my bookcase, as I often do, when I'm between tasks. Each shelf holds books that I haven't read since graduate school, and let's be honest--I don't expect to ever read them again. I spent many years in grad school reading Victorian novels, most of them over 500 pages. It was hard to find time to read them then.

I moved those books to my office for several reasons. It's not that I expected to need them as I teach or help run our department. We have trouble getting our students to read short articles. I can't imagine how they'd react if I said we were reading Bleak House. Actually, I can imagine it. They simply wouldn't read it.

No, I moved them because I needed to free up shelves on my home bookcases. And I thought that the sight of them might be a comfort.

Instead, I find the sight of them distressing. They remind me of all the good ideas I ever had for academic papers and books, and they reproach me as I think about work I haven't yet done. I even have books from my undergraduate years in the office. Those books cause real distress. They remind me of my younger self who first discovered these poets and writers, my younger self who wandered through the days, dizzy with the joy of language and literature.

Yesterday, I took a slim volume of poems that I have on my desk and put it on the shelf in front of my school books. It fit! Now I have a vision: I can put rows of poetry volumes in front of those books that cause me grief. I'll gaze on those books and remind myself of the rich vastness of today's poetry world. When I need a break, I'll pull a volume of poems off the shelf and read. I buy all these books and rarely take time to read them. Poems are perfect for that slot of time between meetings, time that's too short to get any administrative work or grading done, but a chunk of time nonetheless. I almost always find the reading of poems to be inspiring--just the thing to encourage me to return to my own poems. Having those books collected in one place (a place where I spend so many hours a week) will hopefully help me make better use of my down time.

My poetry writing has always been more important to me than my academic writing. Having those poetry volumes there in my office will remind me of my higher calling.

1 comment:

Elizabella said...

I like to think of the books on my shelves much in the way I think of family photos scattered around the house: tangible pieces of history, always close by and comforting. Their well-worn spines and covers remind me of old friends I've lost touch with, past trips I've taken, long-dead relatives I still dream of, and long-lost loves I will always wonder about. Mr. Darcy, the Wife of Bath, and Elizabeth I are as real to me as the family Christmas pictures on the refrigerator!