Why You'll Have to Pry My Books From My Cold, Dead Hands

August 14, 2015

“I love the book. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the compactness of it, the shape, the size. I love the feel of paper. The sound it makes when I turn a page. I love the beauty of print on paper, the patterns, the shapes, the fonts. I am astonished by the versatility and practicality of The Book. It is so simple. It is so fit for its purpose. It may give me mere content, but no e-reader will ever give me that sort of added pleasure.”—Susan Hill, Howard’s End is on the Landing.

I could have written these words. Like Hill, I am a bibliophile—one who loves and collects books. My books are friends. To have my friends around me is a comforting simple pleasure, a delight. I’m all for living with less—less clutter, less activity, less stress. Except when it comes to my books.

You’ll have to pry my books from my cold, dead hands.

In addition to my ever-growing pile of to-be-read (TBR) books, I have many shelves of books I’ve already read. They’re not valuable first editions, but they’re treasured and priceless to me. I cull them from time to time, but I take so much pleasure in my personal library that it would be painful to disperse it. (If you’d like a peek at my shelves, click here—I was part of Danielle’s Lost in the Stacks Home Edition feature at A Work in Progress.)

I don’t keep every book I buy—only ones I think I’ll reread at least once, books I’ll use for reference and/or inspiration, and books that were once important to me that I can’t quite give up yet.

Some of the books I own I’ve searched for over years, or stumbled upon serendipitously. Less than a handful are autographed by their authors, including a copy of the children’s classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. Many years ago I heard the author, Judith Viorst, speak at my local library, and was completely tongue-tied when I asked her to sign my book afterwards. Just looking at that book reminds me of the entire experience of that night.

My books don’t have to be beautiful, but as I’ve gotten older (and my bookshelves more crowded), I’ve started being pickier about what they look like. It pained me that my second-hand copy of All Passion Spent had an unattractive cover illustration (but not enough for me to turn down the copy that became available on Paperback Swap). I covet the lovely dove-gray Persephone books, though I’ve yet to collect my first one. Perhaps looking for books I think are attractive will slow down the entire acquisition process!

I use books to boost my mood, and it’s comforting to have my favorites at my fingertips. There are certain books I reread frequently—not having them on hand might constitute an emotional crisis.

As William Giraldi writes in “Why We Need Physical Books”: “Across a collector’s bookshelves, upright and alert like uniformed sentinels, are segments of his personal history, segments that he needs to summon in order to ascertain himself fully, which is part of his motive for reading books in the first place—whatever else it is, a life with books is incentive to remember, and in remembering, understand.”

I start every day in my office, where I allow my eyes to play over the titles on my shelves while I drink my morning coffee. So many of the books I’ve kept have left a lasting mark on me, and sometimes I need to see them to remember. I need to pull them off the shelf and flip through them, letting them transport and transform me for a second time. What could be more of a simple pleasure than that?

Do you keep books after you’ve read them? What are your favorites?


Now What?

August 12, 2015

Photo courtesy Mikael Kristenson
Introduction by Ted Kooser: A poem whose subject needs no introduction! Melissa Balmain lives in New York State, and her most recent book is Walking in on People, from Able Muse Press.


Your TV cable’s on the fritz.
Your Xbox is corroded.
Your iPod sits in useless bits.
Your Game Boy just imploded.

Your cell phone? Static’s off the scale.
Your land line? Disconnected.
You’ve got no mail—E, junk or snail.
Your hard drive is infected.

So here you idle, dumb and blue,
with children, spouse and mother—
and wish you knew what people do
to entertain each other.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2014 by Melissa Balmain, “Nightmare,” from Walking in on People, (Able Muse Press, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of Melissa Balmain and Able Muse Press. Introduction copyright ©2015 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


If My Horse Had an Instagram Account

August 07, 2015

No matter how old you are, every summer needs a little bit of silliness, don’t you think? Back in May, I shared photos that my cat might have posted if she had an Instagram account. Well, it’s a Friday in August (need I say more?) and I’ve had a busy week, so today I’ll turn the blog over to Tank and his (imaginary) Instagram account:

One of my jobs is to stand guard over our property. This is what I see from my post. Sometimes THINGS rustle around in there and I have to sound the alarm by running around and bucking.

This is where I do my work with my human. I like it best when we try something new. Or when we stand while she talks to the other riders. I could do that all day.

We’ve been jumping over this black thing lately. I could do more challenging jumps, but she’s still learning and I have to take care of her.

This is my best friend. We play together over the fence line, and sometimes he takes off my fly mask for me.

This thing sometimes dispenses treats when I spin it (you can see my teeth marks). It appeared in my paddock one year at what my human calls “Christmas time.”

Be it ever so humble, this is my very favorite thing. Im a man of simple tastes.

I am handsome, am I not?

Happy Friday!


On a Summer's Day

August 05, 2015

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
—John Lubbock, The Use of Life


Speaking of Downpours...

August 03, 2015

It’s been raining here for what feels like forever, but is really only about two weeks. But still. This is the Sunshine State, not the I-Haven’t-Seen-the-Sun-in-Days State. Everything is wet. Fortunately, we have no flooding in my neighborhood, but there are streets closed in Tampa and elsewhere because of the rising water. All I want to do is curl up under a blanket and read or watch a movie (and snack)—I have to force myself to get my work done. I miss the sunshine, and the energy I get from it.

And to make things worse, my iTunes shuffle has been playing rain-related songs this morning! It started with Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain,” and moved on to Sara Bareilles’ “Let the Rain.” So out of curiosity I checked my song list to see what other songs I had that were related to rain. I came up with “It’s Raining Men,” by The Weather Girls, “Here Comes the Rain” (The Mavericks), “Here Comes the Rain Again” (Eurythmics), and “Africa”—as in “I miss the rains down in…” (Toto). On a brighter note, I also have “Here Comes the Sun”  (The Beatles), and “Chasing the Sun,” (Sara Bareilles again). Should I make a playlist?

If I wanted to, I could download and add the following rainy songs:

“Singin’ in the Rain,” Gene Kelly
“Rainy Days and Mondays,” The Carpenters
“Who’ll Stop the Rain,” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” B.J. Thomas
“It’s Raining Again,” Supertramp
“Fire and Rain,” James Taylor
“Bring on the Rain,” JoDee Messina and Tim McGraw

But I don’t think I will. I’ve had about enough of the rain, and I want to keep music the simple pleasure that it is.

I hope your Monday is sunnier than mine.

What’s your favorite rainy day song?