What’s On Your Bookshelf…?

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.

~Charles W. Eliot

One book I consider a quiet and constant friend is a dictionary. There are several scattered throughout the house. When I recently acquired a tablet, a dictionary was the first “ap” I downloaded. I’m also quite enamored of my thesaurus. But dictionaries are important to me for another reason. For some years now I’ve coordinated Valley Grange’s “Words for Thirds” Program–part of a global effort (The Dictionary Project) with the objective of putting a dictionary into the hands of every third grader. We’re just finishing up this year’s distribution and the kids from one school sent thank you notes included in a folder with my caricature drawn on the outside. (Thanks to  Piscataquis Community Elementary School third grade teacher Mr. Arthers for sharing his skill–and for making me look younger!)

These notes are both rewarding and entertaining. I recall a thank you note from one third grader a few years ago explaining that her father had built her a bookshelf in her bedroom to hold her new dictionary. (Most people would be surprised at how excited kids are when they receive their dictionaries. Competing with technology is not as difficult as one might expect. One of the frequent questions we are asked when handing out the books is “How many words are in here?” The students are quite entranced over the possibility of learning over 30,000 words and we try to explain that the book is not only theirs, the words in it can be as well.)

One of the “misfortunes” of electronic publishing and is that in time we’ll probably see fewer actual libraries in homes and books will be hidden in e-readers. Historically, these home libraries have ranged from entire rooms to a bookshelf above a child’s bed. And those shelves can be telling for we are displaying our best friends, counselors, and teachers.

Obviously, our bookshelf changes as we change. I recall struggling with this in a very practical way when we moved to Maine. “Weeding out” the library was one of the more difficult tasks. Parting with a book is never easy for me, even when it has served its purpose.

A recent article in Brain Pickings included a review of the book My Ideal Bookshelf based on interviews with  dozens of leading cultural figures who share the titles of books that matter to them most. The books we decide to read and keep are certainly a good representation of who we are, how we think, and what we value. Reading this review caused me to reflect on how different my shelves have looked over the years and I’m intrigued at which books have made it through several purges.

Were I as artistic as Mr. Arthers, I might consider drawing a bookshelf with eight to ten books on it to represent my profile picture. I suspect such an image would be much more telling than the mug shot I currently use.

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