Growing up, I was a library rat. I could read all I wanted as long as I returned the books. We moved eight times before I finished grade school, though, so there’s some chance I owe libraries in Kansas, Illinois, and California a fortune in late fees for books I hadn’t finished when the moving vans came.
I still use libraries, but my owned-books-to-be-read pile is now a walk-in closet. My bedroom shelves hold 200 first edition novels, many signed by their authors at the bookstores I frequent now. Fiction and poetry clutter our upstairs landing, in a walnut bookcase that was my mother-in-law’s. Nonfiction, art, and history are in the family room. And my “working books”—dog-eared and highlighted paperbacks filled with margin notes—line my office, in easy reach of my desk. Is it possible to write a party scene without first rereading Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby? I wouldn’t know.
If I never walked into a bookstore again, I wouldn’t want for reading, but that doesn’t stop me. Bookstores are so enticing, even with no more shelf space to be had at home. At least once each year, I pile non-keepers in my car and head off to my local library donation drop-off, to make small down payments on those fines. Last time, I counted 129 books in the parking lot, 14 of which simply refused to get out of the car.
I now own copies of many of my childhood favorites we couldn’t afford when I was young. The Madeleine L’Engles. Charlotte’s Web. A much-treasured copy of Forever,signed by Judy Blume in a chance encounter in her Key West bookstore four decades after the book first filled me with hope for my teenaged self.
Some of my books haven’t been opened in years, and might never be again. Still, I find comfort and inspiration in their presence, much like the friends I left behind in all those childhood moves—as if they’re old friends waving their pages at me, wishing me well as I set off into whatever life offers me next.
Meet Meg Waite Clayton at Books Inc. in Palo Alto on September 9 for a Book Launch of her latest novel, The Last Train to London coming out in 20 editions in nineteen languages throughout the world.