When I look at my bookshelf at home, it’s like looking through a photo album. Each spine is a small snapshot of a time, a place, a person and sometimes, all three. Were you to stare at my bookcase with me, I would point to each book and tell you which were gifts or which I had bought while working at a bookstore/snagged from my best friend’s moving sale/found in a box marked “FREE”. You would open up the covers and see inscriptions from a friend/parent/significant other, who had taken the time to write something wonderful on the inside for me to reference even now, years later. Books for me are perhaps the most meaningful of gifts—which is why I am always pleased when I see a solid rectangle placed in my vicinity at holidays or why anyone even remotely close to me can plan on getting a book as a gift at some point. So, now that I have thoroughly set the scene, here are some books from my bookshelf and their stories.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling – gifted to me by my aunt on my 11th birthday. I opened it and read several lines, not immediately taken with this sad boy or his insufferable family. It would sit on my shelf for another year before I cracked it back open, devouring it quickly. I still think of Harry Potter and his friends as my literary tipping point.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – discovered in high school but not read for any specific class. My memory is a bit fuzzy on this one, but I believe I picked up my first copy from the Library’s book sale and brought it home. I read it, reveled, and then read it again. I now own four other editions and re-read it once a year.
Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook – gifted to me by a college friend the year we graduated. It happened that a different friend in college used this cookbook almost exclusively. Her apartment would smell of Zambian delights one week, only to be replaced by Thai aromas the next. It would accompany me to my first apartment and to all the places I lived after. I would then go on to gift it to several other friends as wedding presents or first apartment gifts.
The Interpreter by Suki Kim – purchased at Kyobo in Cheonan, South Korea during my year abroad. When packing for South Korea, my primary concern was locating reading material for the year, so when I found my local bookstore and saw their table of English books, I knew everything would be fine. The Interpreter was the first book I bought in Korea. To this day, it’s often one of the first books I recommend to people.
I hope you have similar stories about books – either ones at home or some at the library. I hope when you spot certain books, you stop and take a moment to recall your initial experience opening the cover, reading the first line, diving into the prose. I hope books transport you, not only to their setting, but back to a moment in your own story.