Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 9, 2012

Family’s characteristics evident through hodgepodge on the bookshelf

For too many months it’s been my guilt. “Puck,” a novel weaving threads of an extraordinary dog with a family’s struggle with breast cancer, has been gathering dust in a basket on the kitchen counter.

I began devouring its pages many months ago when friend and co-worker Sue Richmond loaned it to me. Three-quarters into the pages I got busy. Work — at home and the office — began dominating my time. “Puck” was pushed to the sidelines.

Years ago nothing would have kept me from the ending. But, from childhood to adult years, life changes. And it changes us.

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It was a few days before the stark contrast of the new hard-bound book on the “reserved” shelf claimed attention. But once noticed, the oddity of its placement could not be ignored.

Years ago, after the final page of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” had been turned, it had absentmindedly been placed on top of a row of old, worn books handed down through the family.

Select works of Kipling. “Paradise Lost” and other poems by John Milton. Homer’s “The Odyssey.” Dialogues of Plato. Plays by Gilbert and Sullivan. Aristotle’s “One Man and the Universe.”

As diverse as the subject matter may seem, these books and several others share key characteristics: the volumes have been handed down through generations of “readers,” and someone in the family appreciated the writing style or subject matter — or both.

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There’s a lot to be learned about an individual or family by taking a close look at the authors and titles lining bookshelves. Mine is a hodgepodge of moods.

Authors of classic works share space with modern kings and queens of the horror genre (Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Ann Rice). Beautiful, illustrated pictorials documenting the history of specific countries stand beside an assortment of nonfiction works about nature, wildlife and dogs.

“The Women’s War in the South,” which a teen-age nephew once rolled his eyes at after declaring it “one of those Oprah-type books,” is a neighbor to novels by primarily unknown authors who penned works that claimed attention from page one to the final chapter.

“A Tale of Two Cities” is also a tale of real estate of taste. Its placement, half-hidden behind a framed, family snapshot, illustrates a dislike for Dickens — despite the novel’s great opening. (I’ve tried to enjoy him — I really have — but for some reason we just don’t click.)

Garnering the best spots are books with meaning. A beloved dog-eared copy of “The Magic World of Fairy Tales,” given as a gift from a great-uncle when I was still too young to read, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” a must for any writer who has quirks about semi-colons and commas, and anything by Shakespeare, loved from the first reading of “Romeo and Juliet.”

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I was well into my teen-age years before I realized not all families shared a passion for the written word. At our house, it was the norm to see someone — adult or child — reclining on the couch, sitting in the shade on the front porch, or sprawled under the heavy limbs of an apple tree with his or her nose stuck in a book.

When a volume was left unattended, it was typically easy to recognize its owner by the subject matter. My childhood Nancy Drew mysteries, with bright yellow covers, were a stark contrast to the heavy science fiction fare generally preferred by my oldest brother. But, occasionally, the tastes collided.

I was still very young when this same brother found me scouring the house for “something good” to read after I had finished my newest stacks of books.

He went to his room and brought back a copy of “The Hobbit,” advising me to “give it a shot.”

I was immediately hooked by the main character’s name, Bilbo Baggins, the imagery of a comfortable hobbit hole and the amazing fantasy world of Middle Earth. This very same book has since been passed on to younger family members who also share a passion for Tolkien.

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Whether or not one has read the Harry Potter series, one must continue to give credit to J.K. Rowling for inspiring a new generation of readers. The tales of Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, prompted children and their parents to stay up late for each book and movie midnight release as they eagerly awaited the trio’s newest adventure.

In recent decades, what else has driven children to stand in line for hours? Cabbage Patch dolls. Power Rangers. The newest, hottest, technology driven video gaming system. When Potter Mania was sweeping the nation, it was rewarding to see the written word finally garnering its due share of attention.

If a love of J.K. Rowling’s series motivates more children to begin searching their homes — or tablets — for other good books, Kipling, Milton, and even Dickens, may one day have a new group of fans.

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I look at “Puck” and, once again, feel regret. I’ve never ignored my love of novels for so long. Recently, my passion for the written word has been relegated to newspapers, websites, emails, texts and tweets.

But now it’s time to put my priorities in place and read something that has a plot with more than 140 characters.

It’s time for me to bring home some new characters to battle it out for the coveted spots on the bookshelf. It’s time to once again bury my nose in a book and forget — at least for a little while — about the real world around me.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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