Memories on the Shelves

By: Victoria Hershman

Edited by: Megan Jenkins

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;
 
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.
 
I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.[3]
 
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.
 
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
 
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.[4]

J.R.R. Tolkien

This poem by J.R.R. Tolkien runs through my mind as I sit in my comfortable wingback chair in the front room. I stare at the bookshelves lined with a multitudinous number of books, adorned with a pumpkin here and there. Photos are lined at the top of the bookshelf along with a collection of globes. However, no matter the amount of decorations, the books still hold the center of attention. Books that have traveled the world with me and my family and hold more memories than any antique or relic in our home.

One such collection is the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I began collecting Harry Potter in 2001. I remember standing in line at the midnight release of the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I had read it in a day then bawled texting my best friend, now husband, about the unfairness and the overall tragedy of the book.

To the side of my Harry Potter series sits part of my Tolkien collection. I began reading Tolkien when I was ten years old, reading my father’s edition of The Fellowship of the Ring and shortly after, The Hobbit. These two books were my introduction to the world of elves and orcs in their fierce battle over a ring. It was Tolkien’s stories that propelled me into the world of English literature.

My husband’s shelves hold his various Bible concordances and commentaries; records of his days in Christian ministry at the college where we first met, fell in love, and married after his graduation eleven years ago.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

In life where the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty, both my books and my shelves hold the keys to memories of my past. Oftentimes, they’re painful. The Harry Potter series and Tolkien helped me through those years of mental, emotional, and verbal abuse from my childhood; from an incredibly nasty parental divorce to multiple suicide attempts. Other times, my books remind me of places long ago, like my vintage edition of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that I picked up at a used bookstore while on my honeymoon at Chincoteague Island.

Still, more reminded me of my past endeavors, such as my photography books. These are living testaments to my life, my marriage, my kids, and just glimpses of precious memories. I shudder when I hear of people throwing away books, KonMari-ing their nightstand book piles; the memories they hold are precious to me.

Books are swiftly becoming a thing of the past. Fewer libraries are frequented, less books are being purchased, and even less books are being read. These treasure troves of connections are at risk of being forgotten, or worse, being banned. For what greater risk is there to the world than a book with an original idea that’s been lost to time then found again, sparking a revolution?

Books hold stories, memories, and secrets. They’re a mirror into our lives and the way societies thrive, remain, and endure. Once you read a book, you can never go back to the way things were. The best books are creased from reading, filled with notes and bent pages, well-worn and loved. These marks are testaments to the knowledge inside that seems to change every time it’s read. Books are comfort for the lost, hope for the hopeless, and a lesson for those consciously seeking (or unconsciously seeking) instruction.

Books are precious memories and a way of connecting to the past and envisioning our future.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

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