What was the first book you owned? I’m pretty sure mine was THE CAT IN THE HAT COMES BACK, given to me on my third or fourth birthday, when my family was living in Alexandria, VA. Or — oh so politically incorrect — LITTLE BLACK SAMBO. I still own the latter, a battered, red-cloth cover on the outside, indefensible illustrations on the inside.
According to the listserv DOROTHYL, there’s been a call to send books to a Borders in Kirby, Texas, which will then distribute the books to those evacuated to Houston. (Not “refugees,” by the way. Victims. VICTIMS. Twice over because to be poor in the United States is arguably a form of victimhood. Never a choice, seldom the result of laziness or ineptitude. If you doubt this, read David Shipler’s amazing book on the working poor.)
Today, my household began gathering books to send. Hey, we always have a carton heading out. We buy more than we can ever keep and I let some go. I’ve never been prouder to be a mystery writer or to have so many mystery friends. After all, the people who have been displaced by Katrina need diversion more than anything.
But I decided it wasn’t enough to give away books I already planned to give away. I had to give away books that mattered to me. And, yes, that even includes some inscribed books. For example — ITTY BITTY LIES by Mary Kay Andrews, a dear friend. But she’d get it, I know. She’ll understand that I’m sending my copy of that precisely because it is precious to me — and because I believe it will, for a few hours, help to distract someone from the troubles weighing her (or him) down.
I wrestled with my collection of Linda Fairstein’s books, but decided to send some of those as well. A copy of THE SAMURAI’S DAUGHTER that I neglected to get Sujata to sign. An ARC of Jan Burke’s BLOODLINES. (Okay, I have hardcover back-up on that.) Simon Kernick’s two books about Dennis Milne, which I love, love, love. Ditto, Mark Billingham’s LIFELESS and John Connolly’s THE BLACK ANGEL.
In staring down my bookshelves in my office, I admitted to myself something I’ve always known: There is a calculated vanity to it all, that the array of hard and softcover books is meant to convey the impression that I am smart and eclectic in my reading. Otherwise, why hold onto a book like Roberta Smoodin’s THE WHITE HORSE CAFE, a book I’ll probably never re-read and that few know well enough to have an opinion of? Why not share Ann Patchett’s BEL CANTO, one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read?
I faltered in places. I could not give up any of my hardcover copies of Margaret Maron’s books, although I knew she would probably urge me to. (I did, however, find that I had SHOOTING AT LOONS in paperback, so that went.) Julie Smith’s ARC of PI ON A HOT TIN ROOF? I swallowed hard and put it in the box; I should buy a hardcover anyway, in solidarity with my friend who has been forced from the city she loves so much. The British edition of Linda Barnes’ SNAPSHOT was also hard to sacrifice, as it carries a world of memory. Purchased in Jamaica in 1992, it at once inspired and terrified me that my idea for a female PI novel was way too similar, derivative.
SAUL AND PATSY by Charles Baxter? If I’m honest, I only leave it on my shelves to show off; I rather disliked it. (I’ve been told to read his short stories.) Ditto, SATURDAY, which has serious third-act problems. Russell Banks’s THE SWEET HEREAFTER? No, but only because their hearts are already broken. WONDER BOYS? Sure, because it’s a trade paperback with Michael Douglas on the cover. It’s not like it’s my first edition of THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH.
We are what we read only to the extent that we keep the books in our heads, not on our shelves. The gaps on mine again will fill quickly. But before you get fooled into thinking I’m noble, know this: I couldn’t let go of my Jackie Susann books, although I know they would be seriously diverting.
Anyway, here’s the info from DOROTHYL.
Make sure that ALL OUT OF HOUSTON SHIPMENTS that are sent to the
> Kirby location are marked “OPERATION BOOKS FOR REFUGEES FROM
> > Borders Books
> 3025 Kirby
> Houston, TX 77098