By Pam Pacelli Cooper
President, Verissima Productions
Two weeks ago, I wrote about transporting several bins of family papers from Chicago to Boston. This week, I’m thinking about the books on my shelves, and the story they tell.
Soon after we arrived home, we had guests from Tennessee in our Airbnb. I walked in to find one of them cross-legged on the floor in our living room, looking at the books in the old mahogany bookcase that had belonged to my husband’s grandfather. I hadn’t even considered that anyone would look through our books, and I began to wonder what he might find and what he might think of our book selection. He pulled out Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism, published in 1979, and purchased by me as a part of my training as a therapist. He was fascinated, having never read it before, and the contents of the book made for lively discussions during the rest of his week-long stay, particularly in light of current events.
That started me thinking: what is on our bookshelves, and what stories do our various book collections tell? I’ve looked through only a few of our many bookcases, but so far I’ve found: 10 years worth of book club selections, which brought back memories of spirited discussions; several shelves of therapy books which span 40 years of different trainings and illustrate my evolution as a psychotherapist; a collection of poems, which limn the outlines of various loves in my life; and the finely bound sets of Dickens and Thackeray and Shakespeare, left to us by my father-in-law, an English professor whose love of word and wit has passed down directly to our son.
I felt a sense of appreciation and awe that I had found yet another rich source of family history in a place I hadn’t considered before.
What stories are the books on your shelves telling about you? About your loves, your vocations, your friendships, your family?
If you have resorted to minimalism (I’m a lost cause, there), what books have you kept and why?
What would it be like to call your parents or your siblings or your cousins and compare collections to discover what stories their books tell?
Before everything resides on a Kindle, I hope you can mine your books for the themes in your life.
Please share your thoughts here. We’d love to know—and get ideas.