Books and Memories

Objects do not themselves hold memories however, they can certainly be triggers for remembering moments in time. Books are objects which not only hold memories of their stories, but also of where and when they were read. I found this particularly true when clearing out my father’s house after his death.

My parent’s love of books was demonstrated by the number of bookshelves throughout their house. There was a bookshelf on either side of the front door, four in the living room, two in my mother’s room, three in my father’s room, one in my old bedroom, two in the back hallway and the last in the enclosed sunroom at the back of the house. But not even this amount of bookshelves provided enough space for all of my parent’s books. They were jammed cheek to cheek on the shelves, weighted down with more books on top. Sometimes they were lain horizontally in order to fit more in. The top shelf of each groaned with untidy stacks of the books which hadn’t found room anywhere else.

In the shelf next to her favorite chair I found the set of Peter Rabbit books my mother had brought with us when we immigrated to Australia. She loved the illustrations. I remember when my boys were small and we visited, they would sit on her lap while she read them the tales of Peter Rabbit and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. Next to Peter Rabbit were stacked several of the PG Wodehouse stories my mother enjoyed and beside them a whole series of Georgette Heyer romances. I had read all of them, most often curled on her chair, but sometimes in bed when I was meant to be sleeping.

On the next shelf down my mother kept her books on Russia. “Land of the Firebird” and “Nicholas and Alexandra” amongst many others detailing life before the Russian Revolution. At the far end of the shelf I found “Upheaval”, the book my grandmother wrote about her life in Russia before the Revolution and detailing the way she and my grandfather had to escape during it. I have read it several times and kept enough copies for each of my boys to have one. It always reminds me of the Sunday afternoons I spent in my grandmother’s bedroom listening to stories of her carefree childhood in old Russia.

My father’s book shelves are stacked with books about the second World War as well as literary classics such as “War and Peace”, “Anna Karenina”, “Dr Zhivago”, “Gone with the Wind” and “The Gulag Archipelago”. He was always the more serious reader. I have read most of them but not all. His books remind me of the way he would hover over me as I read, making sure I had clean hands and didn’t fold or tear the pages. It was very annoying.

In the shelves along the back hallway my mother kept all of her cookery books. There was an old and well-worn Betty Crocker. When I took it out of the shelf it opened at the page for chocolate brownies, one of our favorite recipes. Next to it was “Katish”, a Russian cookbook with a story. It reminds me of the recipes we attempted, some of which succeeded and some of which were dismal failures. There are also several books on cooking without sugar and cooking for a healthy lifestyle, indicating my mother’s struggle with late onset diabetes.

Books have always been important to me. Their pages have sustained me through many a dark moment and their words have carried me to other times, other lands and other places, the only limit was my imagination. I treasure not only the memories of the stories I have read, but also the recollections of where I read them. Do you?

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