The Art of Stacking Books

You learn some interesting things about a person when you open books they’ve left behind. As students, their doodles and poetry on front and end pages give them away. You sense a hint of angst or adventure in mantras like “California here I come!”

I didn’t know my belated father-in-law took that trip until yesterday when I selected a textbook from his collections titled “Molders of American Thought”. I was unaware he attended college until I spied the mottled green book cover pasted with Wayne State pennants.

Here’s a quote from E.F. Orr, published in 1933. “Data have always come to us in greater quantities than what we could use and without any effort on our part. In fact, most of us have to take refuge in secluded places to avoid being harassed by the great volume of them.”

Oh, I could spend a month in seclusion with the timeless tome.

I found another textbook titled “Better Speech” by Woolbert and Weaver with “M.R. Underwood 12-A 1936” inscribed. Dad’s printing is a fine hand with a scroll under SEHS, Southeastern High School in Detroit. I’m glad he was mindful to date his books. What a privilege to hold these archives today.

In “Better Speech”, Dad wrote quotation marks around “Speech…is a key which opens our minds and hearts to one another. If a man lived in complete isolation he would never need any means of communication and he would never learn to speak.”

Thirteen years after his passing, I regret again my father-in-law didn’t share his education and life’s experiences with his children. This was typical of our parents’ generation. Neither my father or father-in-law spoke about the War.

Dear Reader, now my father-in-law’s books are talking to me. What fun to find his signature inside “Direct-Method Materials for Gregg Shorthand”. This explains the strange scribbling on end pages of several other books from that time. Remember the tedium of college studies and lectures?

“Only an Irish Boy” by Horatio Alger, published in 1874, is the oldest book I found. It called my name in Irish brogue. “For Frank, Xmas 1894” is penciled on a front end page. Frank was my father-in-law’s uncle. I met the funny, old man once.

I had three piles of books to box when my sister-in-law, Mary, entered the room. “I really like the colors of those books stacked like that,” she said. Good eye, I thought. She found several vintage books with subjects of interest and played with stacking them. “I’ll decorate the house with these.”

Today I’ve been playing with my new old books, reading bits here and there, stacking them, admiring their beautiful spines, works of art inside out. Tis my delight to share a poem Dad copied on the front page of “Three Centuries of American Poetry and Prose”, his 10-A English class.

Books are keys to wisdom’s treasure;

Books are gates to lands of pleasure;

Books are paths that upward lead;

Books are friends, come let us read.