I want to start with the shelves themselves — tall, dark, flanking the fireplace. My sister would inherit those shelves when our parents sold the house, but I don’t think the shelves followed her to her new home, purchased three years ago. They were falling apart by then, which seems unfathomable to me. I thought those shelves would stand forever, like Memorial Stadium, which . . . was leveled a few years back.
And then there were the objects — a porcelain duck (why? I don’t know, but I own it now), wooden and lacquered boxes with playing cards. But, mostly, there were books. Winston Churchill, Will and Ariel Durant. A set of hardbacked American Heritage magazines, including one that had a very comprehensive article on L. Frank Baum and Oz and its fanatics. James Jones. World Book Encyclopedia, where I doted on the color illustrations of dogs, cats, flowers, and the multi-layered anatomical charts.
There would have been so much more, for those two six-foot, possibly taller cases were very full. Were there Modern Library books? Another set of classics? Did my mother’s all-in-one Shakespeare volume reside there? It must have, but I don’t see it on the shelf in my memory. I see . . . Churchill, Durant, Jones. And, I think, Damon Runyon. I can see that book’s spine as I write this, brick-colored, with stripes and a blue oval. The Marx Brothers at the Movies. Will Cuppy? I think so, for I remember my father giving it to me when I discovered Richard Armour. Valley of the Dolls? Why, that was in the linen closet, where it belonged, hidden among the towels.
Mainly, what I remember is the sheer volume of volumes. My childhood home had an unusually large pantry, a narrow corridor that ran between living room and kitchen. But more space was dedicated to books than anything else. Sometimes I roamed that pantry, bitterly disappointed by the choices there. But I don’t recall ever feeling that way about the bookshelves.