Friday, October 26, 2007

No Books Have Been Burnt

People say that we don't have seasons in southern California, but that is untrue. We just shuffle them around a bit. Our brief winter is marked by a few confused deciduous trees who hastily change color after an overnight cold snap. Spring takes place while most of the country is having winter and sometimes includes an optional Rainy Season. Summer extends through most of the rest of the year usually climaxing with the Santa Ana Fire Season.

Catholic Bibliophagist has been keeping her windows tightly closed. Nevertheless, the very high winds forced dust and dirt through my doors and windows. The area we live in is growing rapidly, and all of the surrounding construction sites must have lost a good deal of their real estate, most of which seems to have ended up in my patio. The winds shook the house so hard one night that I was kept awake for several hours. The next morning I went out to buy milk. The winds were still buffeting us, the air was crystaline, the skies were blue, and a plume of smoke was rising in the east.

We are not near enough to any of the fires to be in actual danger (I think -- our new house is much closer to the mountains than any of our previous homes), but every morning the sunlight shining into my library has been the reddish light of late afternoon. The skies have been beige with dust and smoke; the mountains have been mostly invisible. We've been getting some ash, but not as much as some years according to my next door neighbor. It all depends on the direction of the wind, I suppose.

Earlier this week I was sitting in my library wondering which books, if any, I would grab if I ever had to evacuate. Some books are precious because of the words between their covers. But when you get right down to it, another copy would do just as well. No sense toting those.

Other books have an added sentimental value because of the history attached to them. My childhood copy of Little Women. My Latin-English missal which I've had since fourth grade. My copy of Declare which my daughter had autographed at a convention because she knows her mother is too shy to ask for autographs. And the slim one volume Lord of the Rings from Allen & Unwin (it's printed on bible paper) which is not only a beloved work, but was a terribly affirming gift from my parents when I was still in college, a symbol of their acceptance of who their daughter was.

When I first started writing this blog post, I thought I'd conclude by saying that I could leave even these behind because any of them, even in those particular editions, could be replaced. But then I got to thinking about what it might be like to actually live through an evacuation. What would I want to have at hand to read during a time of dislocation when I'd probably be without ready access to books and probably surrounded by the oppressive sounds of television and radio? I think I'd want books that provide comfort, stability, distraction.

  • My copy of A Short Breviary published by Liturgical Press in 1962.
  • My Oxford World Classic editions of Jane Austen's novels because Jane never lets you down. Though hardcover, they are small enough to slip into a pocket. (I used to take them to the hospital with me for post labor reading.)
  • For distraction, a short story collection -- because short is good when you're under stress. I have a 666 page anthology, The Most of P.G. Wodehouse, which ought to get me through any immediate crisis.
  • And if we're talking comfort books, I'd also grab that copy of Little Women and the one volume Lord of the Rings. (Alas, for the three volume Folio Society edition! Too bulky.)
But the one book I would definitely take, even if I took none of the others I've mentioned, is one I could never replace. It's a 25 page book written by my dad called "My Life in the Navy." My sister illustrated it with his own photographs and had it printed through Shutterfly. The language is a little halting in places because my Dad has had three strokes, but his characteristic voice shines through the text clearly, and the photos help his children picture the experiences which later shaped our family's life. I must admit, it's rather sobering to look at a photo of your dad (who looks scarcely out of his teens) posing in front of a wrecked fighter plane. He was in a mid-air collision but walked away without a scratch. Had things been a little different, I wouldn't be here writing this blog post.


entropy said...

Glad you are relatively safe!

I've thought about what books I would save as well but in the end, as you said, most of them can be replaced.

Good post!

Catholic Bibliophagist said...