day three: dust

January 3, 2017 @ 2:58 pm | Filed under:


Tidying our bookshelves is like conducting an archaeological dig through the strata of my own life. All these selves I once was, or earnestly intended to be. The fiber-arts books have been collected from around the house onto one shelf. Look what an accomplished weaver, knitter, quilter, embroiderer I was going to become! In twenty years, I think my tally of completed crafts is: two quilt tops (fleece backing, no actual quilting involved); two scarves; one set of handwoven dish towels; three cotton dolls; and a felt pouch of some sort. Let’s not count the number of unfinished projects tucked away.

The older girls helped me with the sorting and shelving today, and the air was thick was nostalgia and laughter. Rose snatched up some old American Girls handbook and they all burst into song. I guess it had a CD inside at some point? Every other book, it seemed, triggered hilarious memories of how much they’d either loved or loathed it. I certainly wasn’t immune: I may have done some squealing over a stack of old hardback Weekly Readers I must have brought home from my parents’ house at some point. Anybody remember Mishmash and the Venus Flytrap?

Perhaps my favorite find was an old—very old—we’re talking circa 1998—Hearthsong (or was it Chinaberry?) craft kit, only half used. I know some of you remember the Preschoolers [sic] Amazing Window Hanging Kit, am I right? A very wee Jane and I completed about half the designs in the kit: the autumn leaf, the star, the heart, the candles, the tree, the balloon? That’s not bad, actually, considering all we had going on at the time. Or is it possible I shared some of them with Alice? We must have done them out of order because the patterns left are labeled January, May, June, July, August, and September. There’s even some of the gold string left. They’ve turned up at a felicitous moment: I know a ten-year-old and almost-eight-year old who are going to enjoy decking them out with tissue paper, stained-glass-style. I probably won’t even have to cut out the black frames myself, this time around. Rilla will take over this project and produce something fabulous. Note to self: pick up some contact paper.


I filled another whole shelf with Picture Books I Must Be Sure to Read to Huck Before I Miss My Chance. He’s off playing at the neighbors’ right now, but I believe my pick for later will be Astrid Lindgren’s The Tomten, a quiet, wonder-filled counterpoint to the greedy, screechy little tomten in yesterday’s book, Hedgie’s Surprise. I still haven’t begun the next novel readaloud. The neighbor kids are out of school for another week and that means mine have places to go, people to see.

Many layers of the archaeological dig turned up books I bought with a burning appetite, intending to gulp them down immediately…but didn’t. They’ve ossified on the shelf instead, accumulating dust with quiet dignity. So now I have this desire, which I think I always have in January, to read them all just once and decide whether to keep them or pass them on. Look, here’s Mistress Masham’s Repose, which I bought because it’s featured in an essay in my beloved A Child’s Delight—but I didn’t read that essay because I knew it would give away plot points. And then I didn’t read the novel either. Perrin has never steered me wrong, but I do recall starting Mistress Masham and wandering away after a few pages. It’s T.H. White, though, who always makes me laugh! I put it sternly in the giveaway pile but now I’m second-guessing. I ought to at least take a peek, oughtn’t I?

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Let’s face it, I’m never getting around to that one, am I. Even if I do (and I won’t), it’s a big heavy hardback and I’d rather read it on Kindle. The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Why didn’t I finish that one? I was enjoying it. The Zookeeper’s Wife. I was waiting for the right mood.

And of course half the trouble is that for every book here that I haven’t read, there are five old friends I have, who cry out for another visit. “Maybe it’s time for me to reread all of L.M. Montgomery,” I remarked blithely at the start of yesterday’s overhaul. Nine bookcases later, I’m sobered by the knowledge that it would probably take me forty years to read all the books in this house. And, you know, there’s next year’s Cybils to prep for.

Well, that’s the brilliant thing about picture books. You really can read one a day. Two a day! Five a day!

Johnny Crow’s Garden illustration by L. Leslie Brooke.

    Related Posts


25 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. GailV says:

    I gave away our copy of Preschoolers Amazing Window Hanging Kit a few months ago, finally letting go of the dream of actually getting them all done. Given that the kids are in college now I think it was a safe move.

  2. Penny says:

    Sigh. So much book love, so little time… my shelves reveal similar titles (not surprisingly). Today’s find was The Toothpaste Millionaire, and Socks. Books from my youth, now books from theirs. They went fast, all those youths. Sigh.

    What a lovely jaunt through your shelves!

  3. Penny says:

    **ahem, “Today’s find were” – grammar schmammar.

  4. Jeanne Faulconer says:

    I actually have done a conference talk – “A Homeschool Mom Looks Back” – with pictures of my bookshelves (so you could read the titles), using that as the medium for reflecting on our twenty years of homeschooling. I thought it might seem forced, but looking at our various books did show all my/our earlier selves and intended selves, and it was well received.

    I was able to talk about different ages and stages, things that worked and didn’t work, where I found support and didn’t, the evolution of my homeschooling philosophy, and so much more.

    Having moved so much has messed with my mental picture of my bookshelves, and so I’m also glad that I took those photos at that precise moment — before one more move, which still has some of the books in boxes.

    Who knew that pictures of books on a shelf could evoke so many memories?

  5. Alice Gunther says:

    Yes!!! You brought those stained glass projects over–all meticulously prepared and ready for our little girls to decorate with tissue. Allie, Kate and Mary worked on them on the glass porch and then hung the projects in the windowpanes. Loved this post.

  6. Kortney Garrison says:

    Love how you serendipitously find things at just the right time! We got The Tomten for Christmas this year. It’s the perfect compliment to the Jan Brett 🙂

  7. Ellie says:

    Growing up, I *loved* Mistress Masham’s Repose!! Bless. …. was looking for my childhood copy recently, and it’s walked away! Absolutely not to be found. So SAD.

  8. Melanie Bettinelli says:

    these selves I once was, or earnestly intended to be.

    I’m kind of scared to do a really thorough survey of the books because I’m not sure I’m ready to confront all those selves yet. Today my baby turned four and it feels like a turning point. I better get the Mother Goose out quick before we run out of time for nursery rhymes and she’s too old. Was the board book she unwrapped today the very last board book any of my kids will get? I’d better stop before I get too maudlin….

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      Yeah, when I got to the board book stash last night I was pretty choked up. And the Bob Books…and then I realized I don’t even have anyone left at the beginning reader stage! Elephant and Piggie were dusty. ::sniffle::

  9. sarah says:

    1. You must read The Zookeeper’s Wife, it’s gorgeous.
    2. It’s *always* a good time for rereading LM Montgomery.
    3. “I remarked blithely …” Hahaha.

  10. phoebe says:

    I went through and sold a bunch of ours last fall. It was very freeing.

  11. Karen Edmisten says:

    “And of course half the trouble is that for every book here that I haven’t read, there are five old friends I have, who cry out for another visit.”

    Oh, yes.

  12. bearing says:

    When I wince at how little I read aloud to my kids compared to how much I think I *should* read to my kids, I try to remember that I didn’t have people read aloud to me quite as much as I think *I* should, and it was hardly neglect, and I turned out to be a voracious reader.

    Jeanne Faulconer: “looking at our various books did show all my/our earlier selves and intended selves”

    Oh, those intended selves. So sneaky, leaving their ghosts on our bookshelves (and sometimes other kinds of shelves, e.g., my husband’s workshop and the place where we keep our camping gear). I’ve always felt that mine were mocking me a bit, but maybe I could spin it a little differently.

  13. Jamie says:

    Oh my goodness, Mishmash and the Venus Flytrap! Hadn’t thought about that one in YEARS. Coincidentally, I was just looking at Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and thinking, “I am never going to sit down and read this whole book.” #05

  14. Susanne Barrett says:

    Ha! I am re-reading my way through L.M. Montgomery! I am halfway through Anne of Ingleside right now, and then I’ll tackle the Emily series.

    I read somewhere that there’s a new Anne of Green Gables book much like the abovementioned which contains more Ingleside/Rainbow Valley type stories of the Blythe family. I ordered it through the San Diego County Library system, and it arrived just before Christmas. But without a car, I couldn’t swing by to pick it up. I’ll re-order it today, and it should arrive before I finish Rainbow Valley.

    Happy reading! I need to cull my bookshelves, too. I spent ten years working in bookstores around the county, and between that and home schooling, I’ve definitely accumulated a good number of books and bookshelves. Our main room has five floor-to-ceiling bookshelves all built by my husband and filled to the gills with beloved books.

    I love the line from Anne’s House of Dreams when Anne shows Leslie the bookcase in the House o’ Dreams that she and Gilbert fill only with “books that are friends.”

    Happy 11th Day of Christmas!
    ~Susanne 🙂

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      I’ll have to look into that! It’s not one of the story collections? Road to Yesterday, etc? Various Blythes pop in and out of those. I thought I’d read every scrap of Montgomery there was! IF THERE IS NEW LUCY MAUD??? ::salivates::

  15. Maureen E says:

    Came to say that I’m loving these posts so much! And also that any mention of HeartSong is so immediately nostalgic for me, since I grew up looking at all the catalogs even though we rarely actually bought anything.

  16. Lindsey says:

    Just FWIW, I was not in love with Animal Vegetable Miracle. It was a little too precious and inauthentic in the locavore realm. But then I know people who really, really choose the homesteading lifestyle, without the backup of royalties and a husband’s tenured job, and it is a pretty sobering reality.

    Love love love the book posts! Am off to put away Christmas around here (we definitely linger with the holidays!) as the massive ice storm does (or does not) commence here in the Midwest…