August 23, 2019

The Joy of Books

By Kathryn Ramsperger

I'm a lifelong bibliophile. Some even call me a book hoarder. My husband tells me my full bookcases might collapse our house. A woman on a recent webinar pointed at the bookcases behind me, advising me to give most of them away. "If you find you need one in the future, just buy it again," she said.

She was so adamant I acted on her advice. Now I know I hang on to most books for a reason. I know because I've sorted through everyone in my office.

People used to treasure books. I'll never forget plucking A Girl of the Limberlost from my grandmother's shelves. Or devouring Rebecca at the public library. Wedged between the stacks at Ram's Head Bookshop, I made my way through my favorite nonfiction, a musical encyclopedia. Books were our prized possessions though we could afford only a few. Later, my first year at National Geographic, I went to a colleague's party, and every wall in every room was lined with books. I dreamed of the day I could have a home library.

As I sorted through my current collection, I looked for any that might need another home. I didn't find many. I use my books. I lined one shelf with out-of-print classics, another with research books for my writing and marketing, another with books signed by fellow authors I'm proud to call friends, and another with the books I'm using for my current works-in-progress. I buy 10-20 books for every novel I write. Fictional worlds need to be based on real places, people, and events. Otherwise, no one will stick with or believe your story.

Many of my books are out of print. I rue the day I gave away Tillie Olsen's Silences. It was out of print when I needed it most, while I was raising my kids. I see it's been reprinted for its 25th anniversary, but I had to find my way out of being silenced with only the memory of  her passages, such as one of her son banging on the closed door to her office as she tried to find her Muse. “[Silences is] ‘the Bible.’ I constantly return to it,” said Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango StreetAnother prized possession is the first edition of John Steinbeck's letters to his editor as he wrote East of Eden, my favorite novel. My writing group gave me a copy when I finished drafting The Shores of Our Souls. 

I saved the bottom shelf for my special collections of fairy tales from around the world, including my first favorite book, The Three Little Horses. Fairy tales taught me allegory, archetype, and other cultures. When I want inspiration, I read one. 

I seldom shelve the stack of books I want to read next. They're bedside. I was excited about ereaders for a while because of my husband's angst about bookcases. I also wanted to see less pulpwood trucks on the road and more birds singing from forest branches. However, I find it difficult to keep notes and mark passages digitally. I have trouble finding a specific quote on an ereader, instead of simply flipping to an earmarked page in a print book. My eyes get tired and dry from too much screen time. Having worked in publishing, I love the texture, smell, and weight of a book in my hands. It feels as if I'm holding another world. 

Owning books is better than owning almost anything else. Mine are now organized and easy for my family to give away if I decide to stay in a new land, or whenever I keel over for the last time. The older I get, the more I know they are a privilege beyond compare. (If you don't believe me, read The Book Thief.) They made me the writer I am. They molded me into the person I am. They come to me when I'm sad or lost, searching for the reason I write. I’ll be able to hold a book in my hand long after age keeps me grounded. That book will take me places I've never been. Books, unlike anything else, contain magical brews that defy time and space. They make me feel young again.  They make me feel. 

What better gift to give, to own, to cherish, than a book? What better way to decorate your home? What better profession than to create an object that can change a person's life? 

It's a privilege I'll never give up.
Kathryn Ramsperger’s literary voice is rooted in the Southern tradition of storytelling, informed by her South Carolina lineage. Her debut multicultural novel The Shores Of Our Souls (TPP, 2017) received a  Foreword Indies award and an America's Best Book award. A sequel is in the works, as is a work of creative nonfiction. She began her career writing for The Roanoke Times and The Gazette newspapers and later managed publications for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, Switzerland. She has contributed articles to National Geographic and Kiplinger magazines as well as many online publications. She's lived in Europe and Africa and traveled throughout the Middle East. Her most recent adventure was in Iceland, and her vision is to pursue humanitarian work on every continent. A graduate of Hollins University (Roanoke, Va.), Kathryn  also holds a post-graduate degree from George Washington University. Winner of the Hollins University Fiction Award, Kathryn is also a finalist in novel, novel-in-progress, short story, and poetry categories in the Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition. Her award-winning stories have appeared in journals for several decades. Author website:  Blog: A fuller list to my work or reviews:

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