Purging the Book Case – A Process of Self-Discovery

If you’re a reader, like I am, sooner or later your book shelves become overloaded. They are either stacked several deep, piled next to the shelf or spilling over the edges. Even in the era of kindles and e-books, of which I use often, I still like to feel the page of a real book. But sooner or later, the purge must take place.

I have bookshelves in nearly every room of my home: Two bookcases in my office; a multi-purpose bookcase in the family room; music books next to the piano in the dining room. Bunches of cookbooks in the kitchen. Then there’s the overflow in the basement. Clearly, the task of going through all those books at one sitting is too much. So I looked first in my home office where I keep my current and recent reads and those books most near and dear to my heart. Even there, I couldn’t go through both book cases, but rather settled on one. I plopped down on the floor and pulled out very book to leisurely exam them and determine their worthiness to remain on the shelf.

The process was a little bit of a walk down memory lane but it brought me front and center with making a decision. What to keep or not. What’s been important to me and still is. This in addition to revealing what as best I can describe as a very eclectic bunch of reading material.

So settle in for a bit of a review of Kate’s library:

Lots of works of fiction, too many to cover all. But some authors just stick to my heart like good friends. Take Anna Quindlen with “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.” Or “One True Thing” and “Blessings.” They stay on the shelf because, like a long time friend, I don’t want to lose contact with them. Then there’s Ann Patchett. On my shelf are “The Dutch House”, “Bel Canto” and “Truth and Beauty.” Ann definitely seems like someone I’d enjoy visiting with over a glass of wine. Isabelle Allende has always intrigued me. I find her writing mesmerizing. “House of Spirits” was my first. Her memoir “Paula” remains, yet to be read. It’s a poignant story she wrote while her daughter lay in a coma. “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold stays on the shelf just because it’s a wonderfully written story about a tragic situation.

I was surprised but pleased that I have several Nebraska authors — old and new. I have to retain works by the venerable Willa Cather: “My Antonia,” “Song of the Lark” and several others. As a fledgling author many years ago, Rainbow Rowell wrote a column for the Omaha World-Herald. Now quite a few books later, she has published several novels. I have on my shelf “Eleanor and Park” and “Attachments.” I keep a book entitled “Nebraska Authors” by Nancy Sue Hansen and Barbara Ann Dush, a thorough compilation of lesser known writers in this state, but writers nonetheless. I save it for future reference.

I have a soft spot for Nebraska authors, but I simply can’t overlook Minnesota author William Kent Kruger. Every summer when we visit our cabin there, I buy one of his books at the tiny locally-owned “Rainy Day” bookstore in Nisswa. And if I’m fortunate in timing, I sometimes get his autograph. Whenever this author comes out with a new book, he does his first book signing at this shop. His series about Sheriff Cork O’Connor is delightful reading. But”Ordinary Grace” and “This Tender Land” are extra special.

I confess to being an Outlander junkie and am currently slogging through the latest one, “Go Tell the Bees That I Have Gone.” The entire series — nine so far — stays on the shelves if for no other reason than to remind me that I met the challenge of reading books that were each over 1,000 pages. I do love the story that Diana Gabaldon weaves about this fascinating time travel journey. But they do take up a lot of room.

Some books have landed on my shelf because of our now defunct book club. Our first ones of so many years ago: “The World is Flat” by Tom Friedman and “A Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. Our club became fans of Kristin Hannah so I have “The Great Alone” and “Firefly Lane.” We loved “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. Hundreds of books with this group, many of which I would never have read had it not been for the urging of those fine women.

Plenty of nonfiction books line the shelves, mostly because they represent issues I care about and, in some cases, want to spend more time working on. There are two books by Michael Pollan: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “The Botany of Desire,” both of which explore the most basic of human acts and relationships — the food we eat and why.

I’m always interested in women’s issues and was totally captivated with Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ “Women Who Run With Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.” It remains because I want to reread it.

I was raised on a farm and ranch on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills and to this day have a deep appreciation for the land and a comittment to taking care of it. That’s why “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold speaks to me. One of my favorite quotes from the book: “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

I really don’t read a lot of biographies but a few stand out for me. Like Alice Schroeder’s “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.” His advice: “Life is like a snowball. The important thing is finding wet snow and a really long hill.” I’ll also keep the Obama books: “A Promised Land” by Barack and “Becoming” by Michelle. Don’t ask me why but I was enthralled by Robert Massie’s biography of Catherine the Great, a rather massive book but a fascinating account of this interesting woman. Joe Starita writes of America’s first Indian doctor (and a Nebraskan) Susan LaFlesch in “A Warrior of the People.”

Some books stay on the shelf because of a personal connection. “Wisdom of Love” is written by my godson Rick Furtak who teaches philosophy at a college in Colorado. I gave him gifts of books from the time he was very young. As he wrote on the inside cover of his first book ( an analysis of the works of the philosopher Keirkegaard), “To my godmother, with gratitude for all the books you’ve given me, going all the way back to The Little Prince in 1983…..” Thank you, Rick.

Then there’s the book on writing by my high school English teacher, G.Lyn Nelson, “Writing & Being: Taking Back Our Lives Through the Power of Language.” When we sophomore girls weren’t stargazing at his good looks, he taught us much about reading and writing. I still remember one of his assignments was to write a 100 word sentence, making it not only legible and grammatically correct, but interesting. I tried.

There are a few of what I would call self-help books, for lack of a better term. Some provide content for the blog posts I write about aging. I often refer to Deepak Chopra’s “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind.” or Mary Pipher’s “Women Rowing North.” (another Nebraska author) A book on podcasting sets on the shelf because it’s something I’d like to try. Maybe I should first read the book.

My sojourn into Bible study and daily meditations has led me to several books, The Bible being one. For daily meditations I use “Yes, And…” by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr and “New Morning Mercies” by Paul David Tripp. I was raised and still am a practicing Catholic but I look broadly at Christianity. That’s why I like “Searching for Sundays” by Rachel Held Evans, who, as one writer described her, calls for an intersectional approach to Christianity that embraces people of color, L.G.B.T.Q. people and women in all roles in the church. Sadly, not long after this book was published, Evans died of complications from the flu.

Every library should house a little poetry, so I keep a couple: “Poems:Volume I” by Robert Louis Stevenson and “Book of Longing” by Leonard Cohen. How’s that for the yin and the yang of verse.

Then, of course, there are all those books and magazines on home decorating, gardening, photography, etc. etc. — a reflection of my current hobbies, my wanna-be hobbies and those that are just fun to look at.

Books, books and more books. Like the pages between their covers, they move in and out of our lives. Some remain. Others don’t. Some go to the bowels of my basement, surviving another day before they head off to charity or even the trash. A few might be sold. During this recent purge, I went through a sizable folder of music from the many weddings for which I was the organist. I don’t intend to play for any more weddings so I decided the music must go. I posted it for sale on our local online sales site. It sold in 20 minutes.

The purging is far from done. But the process was interesting. It reminded me of what I like, what I value, what I believe. My leanings and learnings. It brought back fond memories. They’ll come another time when the bookshelves will fill up and need to be gleaned and cleaned. Another opportunity for a walk down memory lane, some choices to be made, but one thing is for sure: I’ll keep reading and acquiring books. Life is an open book and the pages keep turning.

Author: Kate Sullivan

I'm a native Nebraskan, farm girl at heart. I served as a State Senator for 8 years in the Nebraska Legislature. Now, in my retirement, I'm looking for a new outlet for my energies.

2 thoughts on “Purging the Book Case – A Process of Self-Discovery”

  1. So many books with memories attached to them Kate. I enjoyed your post and why you’ve kept the ones you have. I too am slogging through Tell the Bees I am Gone, as an audio book. I have most of the earlier Outlander books and agree they take up some room! Good luck with your purge.


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