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The New Library

I said, “I’d love to have a library. Down in my old office. With a spiral staircase. And lots and lots of bookshelves.”

Several years later, I have it, and it’s where I sit now, writing this article and enjoying the view of a couple of hundred carefully chosen books (the other few hundred are scattered throughout the house in various bookcases and boxes).

I was staring up at one shelf, and thought it might be fun to share it with you – what’s on it, and why.

I can’t say that any one shelf is more treasured than any other; each one is organized by general subject matter. This one happens to contain older books —classics— books that make me feel happier merely because they are there. Each book, when opened, has its own scent, paper, little treasures like a pressed flower or hand-made bookmark. Most importantly, each contains a wealth of words, that, linked together, create a world to visit and revisit – like a trip to the back of a wardrobe in an empty upstairs room.

Victorian Poetry Victorians and poetry simply go nicely together. Romantic, dense, and like a delicious dessert, meant to be savored, just a taste. With wine.

Poetry of the English Renaissance Another go-together, but in a slightly different direction – more cerebral, somewhat religious or sacrilegious, and full of seldom seen words and phrases, stuff and nonsense.

William Shakespeare

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare The writer I would most like to meet, if single writer he was, indeed. From weeping to silliness to roaring at the fates, Shakespeare has created a character and a play. More than that, however, is how many ideas and simple turns of phrase he invented. And to think he wrote it all with a quill dipped in ink.

Harold the Webbed -or- The Young Vikings: Trader Horn by Ethelreda Lewis Because who doesn’t need at least one book about Vikings?

Selected Works of Herman Melville When you’re done reading about Vikings, it’s good to turn to some more tales of the sea, but this time under the skillful hand of Herman Melville. More than adventure, though, Melville wrote in a prose style unique to his own sea-faring life, and with a heart full of allegory and visions of the hand of God.

The Complete Novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne Sin, dark romanticism, shades of the supernatural.

The Romance of King Arthur Now back up to one of the great tales of western literature – part folklore, part mythic hero, part symbol for the redemptive story of Christ, there is always some new theme to be found in the story of King Arthur, Sir Launcelot, and the Knights of the Round Table.

Charles Dickens Best Stories I’m not sure how anyone could suggest that there were any “best” Dickens. They’re all “best.” Dickens: he of the brilliant names and unforgettable characters; whose books even on a 5th, 6th, or 7th reading can make me laugh or cry.

The Literature of America Just a sampling of literature considered, at the time of its publication, to be distinctly “American” in character and style. This one was sampled in the early 1900s. What would it be today?

Modern English Usage – Fowler Hardly modern, and actually, delightfully mid-1800s. A book like this reminds me how elegant language can, and often should, be.

The Lockerbie Book of Riley Verse – James Whitcomb Riley – Contains Poems Not in Dialect – I didn’t know ‘til I began to research it that this is a collectible volume!

John Keats Complete Poems Keats, along with Shelley and Byron and a handful of others, comprised the great second wave of Romantic English poets. Dying pitifully young of tuberculosis (25) he nevertheless left such lines as:

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

John Milton

John Milton – Complete Poems and Major Prose Milton was a child of the 1600s, and as such, born into a climate of religious uncertainty and preoccupation. Paradise Lost is just one of his great works, though perhaps the best known. Written when he was blind, impoverished, and ill, he imagines conversations with Lucifer. What more could you wish to conjure up?

Wordsworth Poetical Works – William Wordsworth – aptly named – was one of the first wave of English Romantic poets, whose “The World is Too Much With Us” was one of my introductions to this type of poem.

Canturbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer The stories one hears when traveling to Canturbury. 30 some pilgrims tell their tales, some heroic, some bawdy, some clever. All brilliant – and what a joy it would be to have heard them performed.

The Illiad – Homer Originally to be spoken, the tale of the fall of Troy. I recall reading about a “wine-dark sea” and not understanding how the sea could ever be the color of wine. Of course, I was only ten or so at the time.

Marmion – Scott An historic romance poem, The poem tells how Lord Marmion, a favourite of Henry VIII of England, lusts for Clara de Clare, a rich woman. He and his mistress, Constance De Beverley, forge a letter implicating Clara’s fiancé, Sir Ralph De Wilton, in treason. Constance, a dishonest nun, hopes that her aid will restore her to favour with Marmion. When De Wilton loses the duel he claims in order to defend his honour against Marmion, he is obliged to go into exile. Clara retires to a convent rather than risk Marmion’s attentions. And I admit – I’ve not read it! But it’s always good to have something to look forward to.

Fact, Fancy and Fable In alphabetical order, just a confabulation of facts, fancies, and fables – from mermaids to uses for marigold leaves.

Anna Karenina – Tolstoy A great, sweeping, dramatic, grand novel —like Russian music— that tells the sad story of the infidelity of the title character.

The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces Norton Anthologies are splendid collections of selected works that aids the reader in choosing nothing but the best.

Irish Fairy and Folk Tales – Yeats William Butler Yeats was fascinated with the folk and fairy lore of Ireland, and this volume is a collection of some of his favorites. Every land, it seems, had native sprites, demons and nature spirits.

British Dramatists – Dryden to Sheridan If you like you gin with tonic, and your humor dry and witty, this is for you.

Ariel – the Life of Shelley Shelley was perhaps, a prototype hippie: gentle, fun-loving, romantic, hedonistic, kind, and fond of spirits. Of all kinds.

The Outline of History – H.G. Wells Influenced by Darwin and divided up thematically and always an eye toward science, Wells attempts to examine man’s entire arc, from origin to the publication of this book in 1919 and 1920 (in installments). Influenced no doubt by the first World War, he was, for the era, encyclopedic in his scope, beginning with proto-humans and working his way forward.

As with any library, the greatest challenge is to keep from dragging any book down as soon as your interest is captured by its title and losing yourself for the evening, day, weekend, buried in reading. But now that I’ve completed this article, maybe I’ll just take a moment …=

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.