My name is Lily. I’ve worked here at AbeBooks for almost seven years and today I'm offering a tour of my bookshelf.
While I lean mostly towards books, I’ll read pretty much anything, anywhere - from the Nutritional Information on the cereal box while eating breakfast, to the ads on the bus, to a pamphlet on preventing gingivitis while waiting to see the dentist. Some might even say my reading borders on addiction - though I won’t publicly admit to feeling panic, I will own up to some serious anxiety when my 'unread' pile shrinks to fewer than two or three books.
But even though I’m constantly reading, as I sit here staring at my bookcase it’s abundantly clear that I am a collector only in the sense that I like having the books I’ve read and loved close at hand. If any of them happen to be first editions, it’s by accident, not design, and I own only three signed books, two of which were purchased off-the-shelf, days or weeks after a reading I had not attended. They are: Deloume Road by Matthew Hooton; a UK edition of Room by Emma Donoghue; and (at the risk of showing my age) Selected Poems by Al Purdy. The remainder of the books on my shelves – and stacked on the floor, on the nightstand, in the hall closet – are not special in any way other than in how I felt when reading them.
As for what kind of books I read, they’re not easy to pigeonhole. If you asked me if I like Westerns, I’d say not on your life. Yet my copy of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove is so tattered and worn, I’ve saved a new and untouched copy beside the old one, held in reserve to make sure I’ll be able to visit Gus and Call and Clara whenever I want, as often as I want, and for as long as I want.
Nor would I consider myself a fan of horror but I’ve read Stephen King’s Different Seasons and The Stand at least a half-dozen times over the years. I’ll scoff openly at the current craze over badly-written vampire schlock but I devoured Justin Cronin’s The Passage and The Twelve, and can’t wait for The City of Mirrors. I’ve also never seen the appeal of those ubiquitous psycho-killer-on-the-loose-call-in-the-FBI series – (seriously, as far as I can figure, ‘procedural’ is just code for ‘formulaic’) - yet every single time I pick up Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, I cannot put it down until I’ve turned the last page. Every. Single. Time.
But the two things that stand out, the two categories that seem to make some kind of sense of this jumbled mess of a bookcase, are books about the familiar and books about the foreign – about home and away. My childhood reading was pretty much exclusively limited those fanciful, magical, very foreign worlds that most kids enjoy. Like many, I started with Dr. Seuss before I could actually read, but the only one I still own is The Cat in the Hat. I also have the first book I ever checked out of the library, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – not the actual library book, mind you, I’d have long ago been thrown into debtor’s prison for the overdue fines, but a similar copy found years later. When I got to school, I loved Pierre Berton’s The Secret World of Og and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, but they both lost favor when I discovered Charlotte’s Web and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. After reading the latter, I spent almost an entire winter hiding in the back of my mother’s closet, looking for a door into Narnia and wishing I was Lucy Pevensie.
It wasn’t until I was a ‘tween – long before that term was ever coined – that I discovered with some surprise that I could love a book not about magical worlds or talking animals but about my own little corner of British Columbia. Set in a small coastal community where it never stops raining, one surrounded by and dependent on ocean and forest, I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven felt like home from the very first page. In much the same way, David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars felt like home decades later, as did Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park, and Hooton’s Deloume Road.
Probably because of a lifetime of exposure to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), that feeling of ‘home’ extends to include other places in Canada, including those I’ve never visited: Yellowknife in Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay; small-town Saskatchewan in W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind; Toronto in pretty much anything by Margaret Atwood, particularly Lady Oracle, Cat’s Eye, and Alias Grace; Cape Breton Island in Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald and The Bishop’s Man by Linden McIntyre; Newfoundland and Labrador in E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Galore by Michael Crummey, and Annabel by Kathleen Winter.
But as much as I love books that feel like home, I equally enjoy stories that take me to new places, introduce me to new people, and show me experiences very much foreign to my own. And thanks to all these books that fill my shelves, I have traveled worlds.
Here are just a few of the people and places I’ve visited, both home and away.
by Justin Cronin