A lifetime love of books
January 1, 2023 | View PDF
During my recent bout with COVID-19, books helped keep my sanity. I enjoyed reading during the long weeks of recovery, when I had little energy to do much else.
I have loved books for as long as I can remember. My parents read to me from a very early age. They gave me an oversized, full-color picture dictionary for my seventh Christmas in 1962. Oh, how I treasured that book and spent hours poring over the details.
As a young girl growing up in Glennallen, I remember looking at books in the little log cabin library. My family also had a shelf of wonderful children's books at home and when I was about 10 we acquired the Harvard Classics and a set of encyclopedias.
As a teenager, my favorite magazine was American Girl, which I discovered through the 4-H program. I also got involved in the Scholastic Book Club orders for our freshman class. Most of the books available were paperback and cost anywhere from $.50 to $1.25. I saved my babysitting money and studied the monthly catalog before making my choices. I combined the individual orders, filled out the master order blank, mailed it, and when the books arrived a few weeks later, made sure each person got their purchases.
During my sophomore year, I worked in the Glennallen school library one period each day. I learned the Dewey Decimal system and began to realize the immensity of the book world. I briefly looked over the returned books as I re-shelved them, and that was how I found two of my all-time favorites – "Celia Garth," by Gwen Bristow and "Mrs. Mike," by Benedict and Nancy Freedman.
When I married, my husband came with his own collection of books, everything from poetry and cookbooks to a set of do-it-yourself handyman encyclopedias. When we started having children, I found that I would rather spend money on books than clothes for them. Family and friends added to their collection. Years later, when our grandchildren came along, they enjoyed those same books in their home.
In 1986 when our kids were 8 and 10, my parents bought them a set of World Book encyclopedias. Many reports were researched and information gathered from those burgundy and ivory bound books, which sat prominently on a shelf in the dining room. Although that whole world of information has now been available for many years through a click of a mouse, I still find myself reaching for them at times.
Through the years, some of our homes have had ample bookshelves, while in others, most of the books stayed in boxes. Space was always a consideration. Just before our move to Slana in 1999, I was determined to sell some of our books at our garage sale. Although we had a very successful sale and downsized our amount of belongings, books were not among them. As I sorted through the books, I found there were two categories: the ones I had read, liked and wanted to keep, and others that I had not yet read, but still wanted to, and therefore also wanted to keep. I think only two books went to the garage sale.
For six years we ran a bed and breakfast in our Slana home. Some guests inquired as to why and how we acquired so many books. I explained that many were given to us, some were purchased new, but I got many for a fraction of the price at thrift stores, yard sales and library book sales during our snowbirding years.
Most of our books ended up in piles on the floor after our November 2002 Denali Fault earthquake. Re-shelving them gave me reason to review the titles and reorganize. Besides the gardening section, we had the financial, the medical and health, religious, travel, children, teen, Alaskan, political and fiction sections. I even lent out a few to neighbors and friends, since Slana had no library, and considered affixing checkout cards and sharing even more.
Since I loved books so much, when it was introduced in 2007, a friend insisted I needed a Kindle. I told him I might consider it, but not until after I'd caught up with reading the books already waiting on my bookshelves. I have never tried reading from a Kindle, but even after all the new and improved versions, I realize most likely I will never own one. Looking at screens is not pleasant for me. I don't own a smartphone yet, although I have told family and friends I will consider purchasing one "someday". A smart phone is more likely than a Kindle.
When packing up for our move back to Palmer in 2011, I finally was able to cull four large boxes of books, and later sold them at our 2013 garage sale. However, I acquired many additional titles in the subsequent years. Another garage sale was planned for May 2022, and this time I was determined to be ruthless in letting go of books. But first I checked each title on the AbeBooks website and set aside the valuable ones. It was surprising which had value and which didn't. I then filled many boxes for the garage sale – hundreds of titles and hundreds of pounds worth.
Of course, there were leftovers. After giving a couple of boxes each to two other garage sales (whose profits went to a good cause) I took some to local thrift stores. Title Wave Books in Anchorage bought a few and I gave the rest to the Bright Lights Book Project. Their mission is to put free books into the hands of appreciative readers, by way of unattended bookshelves and containers at various Mat-Su Valley businesses and locations such as the Palmer Veterans and Pioneer Home.
All this only made a dent in my book collection. I know my children would like to see further reduction, making their job easier at some point in the future. Back when I pored over my childhood dictionary, little did I realize how much a love of books would affect my life.
Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at email@example.com.