Ex Libris

No secret to anyone who knows me, I love books; not only reading them but also collecting and surrounding myself with them. While I have culled my personal library many times, the volumes that remain have been calling for attention ever since I retired last September when hundreds more were added to my overflowing shelves. “Order! We need order!” they seemed to exclaim every time I ran a dustcloth over the twelve bookcases that line every room, now doubled up. “I hear you,” I whispered, then procrastinated. Such an overwhelming task! For months I simply stared at the disarray. Plain and simple, I needed help. Two weeks ago, I asked my oldest granddaughter, home from UCLA for the summer, if she would be interested in having a little adventure with me. She could tell that I was being facetious but eagerly agreed.

Olivia’s incredulity about my obvious obsession with books made me wince a little. Did I look like a deranged hoarder to her? “Have you read all these books?” she asked, as I showed her the entirety of the project that spread over the whole house. “Well, yes, most of them,” I said, hardly believing it myself. “Ooooooh, that’s crazy! she said, but I could tell that she meant it admiringly which eased my anxiety a bit.

Our first task was to set up a spreadsheet with authors, titles, and categories. I explained to Olivia that we would catalog, re-group, and relocate my scattered books for easier access. She nodded instinctively as we camped out with my laptop in front of the first bookshelf upstairs. Laboriously, I began the process of removing each book, deciding whether or not to keep it, then dictating the pertinent information to Olivia who typed in the data. She suggested that I use sticky notes to temporarily label the stacks I was creating and alphabetizing on every available space.

Surprisingly, from the get-go, the project has taken on an adventurous quality. “Every book has a story,” I told her, as I commented, sometimes at length, on why each volume is important to me (or not). I unconsciously slip into my teacher mode as I review each writer out loud. While Olivia knew some of the more well-known authors, her knowledge of the literally hundreds of spiritual books I consider essential reading for the serious seeker, is limited. I continually repeat that she HAS to someday read this one or that one. Olivia is an attentive, albeit captive audience. At one point on the first day, she enthusiastically encouraged me to create a Tiktok account to teach young folks about these books. “You would have a million followers, Grandma!” she exclaimed. (LOL! Picture a laughing/crying emoji.)

Getting my personal library in order with Olivia at my side has been an unexpected gift, a walk down memory lane, beautiful affirmation of my dedication to lifelong learning and teaching. Moreover, circling back to my dedication to faith formation, the adventure deepens my conviction that spiritual development goes far beyond the limits of church doors and basic religious literacy. It is about the quest, the seeker, and continual questions that increase with years of imparted and experienced wisdom. The authors of these books have formed me in ways inexpressible and timeless. The many volumes, some very tattered, yellowed, and frayed, stand as enduring sentinels to what has gone before, what is present, and a legacy to be handed on to future generations.

After each session, Olivia gives me the current count. We wonder how many will be on the final list–perhaps a thousand or more? That is entirely possible. “I would love to have my own library someday,” Olivia tells me. Music to my ears, I smile and reassure her that she has already begun–for all I have is hers.

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