I have books on shelves in two rooms that I will never read from cover to cover again. I keep them because they are some of my dearest friends.
What’s on someone’s bookshelves tells a lot about them, unless they’ve gone out and bought best sellers just to look good; but I guess that tells something about them too.
This is a tribute to books. Hardcovers and paperbacks only.
I have mentioned my childhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s where a lot of things happened for the first time, including books.
In the summer when I was between third grade and fourth grade, a little bookmobile came to Burns Park every two weeks, parked in the street, and opened its doors. I don’t know how many books were in it; maybe fewer than what I have on my shelves right now.
I was issued my first identification card ever, and then I looked at all of the covers, and tried my best to make the big decision.
I don’t think I owned a single book until I was in the fifth grade. Whenever I was asked what I wanted for my birthday, I said gloves and bats and balls, not books.
The bookmobile had a couple of books about a detective that a brainy kid named Charles Waldrop told me about. Thanks, Charles.
The detective’s name was Sherlock Holmes.
The first book I checked out was “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
Since then, I have read all of the books and short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, and I own nine of the 14 Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films that were made between 1939 and 1946.
Obviously, that was more than one a year. The quality of the writing and filming, however, is high, and Rathbone’s Holmes has never been surpassed.
My favorite Holmes short story is “The Red-Headed League,” and my favorite Holmes book is my first, “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” partly, I’m sure, because it was my first.
I have all of my nonfiction here in my office, and all of my fiction on shelves in the guest room.
I’ve seen libraries in homes in magazines and movies that I envy, and I’m not even close to those. But when I walk into my small office, and see all of my “friends,” I am in a very special part of the house.
Perhaps my favorites in this room are the biographies and autobiographies. In the guest room, I have a row of Dickens and a row of Doyle, and many of the books I was assigned in college that might have contributed to my disposition. It doesn’t take long to read “The Stranger” by Camus, but it has lasted a lifetime.
I have a book titled “Groucho’s Letters,” and that’s exactly what it is. There’s Dorothy Parker and her contemporary, Fran Lebowitz.
I also have several guilty pleasures: I own a book that tells me every top 10 song for every week from 1955 until 1967.
Once I became an art major, my annual gift haul became art books. I continue to open them, and I am always inspired.
Charles Francis Potter said, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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