Tonawanda News

June 19, 2013

DUVALL: Book project a trip down memory lane

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — They say no man on his death bed ever said “I wish I spent more time at the office.” After a restorative week away from the news and the News, I won’t disagree.

I didn’t do anything particularly exciting. Caught up on laundry. Went through some old clothes and found three garbage bags worth of items to drop off at the Salvation Army. 

One project I hadn’t planned on undertaking left me thinking, though. 

I reorganized my bookshelf.

It started simply enough, with the desire to shelve about 30 books acquired from places near and far over the last few years that were haphazardly stacked and beginning to catch dust (like too many other things laying around my apartment).

I’m a little OCD when it comes to things like this. I’m far from a neat freak but certain things need to be the way I want them to be for me to feel OK about the world. A bookshelf is one of them.

When I moved in I took a page (haha, get it?) from the movie “High Fidelity” wherein John Cusack’s character reorganizes his massive record collection. Not alphabetically or chronologically but biographically — as in, ordered by where and when he acquired them.

I did roughly the same thing, grouping books from times in my life. Childhood favorites were grouped together. My favorite of my college English classes were on another shelf. Post-collegiate fiction and non-fiction were elsewhere. 

It was a quaint idea and I had fun deciding where each book should go. Should “Red Badge of Courage” be filed under childhood favorites because I first read it in the 10th grade, or under college books because I read it again in American lit class? (College won out because the copy I have was purchased at the Canisius bookstore, probably for $10 more than I could have bought it at a used bookstore.)

Don’t even get me started on where I should have filed “Catcher in the Rye” — I’ve read it at least a half-dozen times.

Alas, the system had finally broken down. With limited space, I couldn’t afford to leave shelves half-full so I decided it was time to suck it up and go alphabetically, by author, of course.

A funny thing happened on my way to creating a newly organized literary self. I found myself paging through books I hadn’t thought about in years — and books I think about all the time because they’ve helped shape my intellect, my worldview.

I found myself chuckling at the first few pages of “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole, still far and away the funniest book I’ve ever read. I was transformed back to my teenage self, when I first encountered the bulbous Ignatius standing under a clock waiting for his servile mother and making an outrageous fuss outside a department store.

I read the last chapter of my favorite book of all, Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” — and smiled when I remembered reading its famous last line for the first time, then turning the page assuming there was still more to be said. It was then I learned in all good writing brevity is next to godliness. “After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”

My God, what a way to end a book!

Of course at least a third of the books I own are still on the waiting list. I thumbed through a few books I forgot I ever bought (or borrowed with full intent on returning them to their long-forgotten rightful owners) and made a resolution — and a pecking order — to make some headway this summer.

I read a lot in this job. Too many nights I flip off the lights in the newsroom, drive home and plop down, eyes tired, mentally drained. In that state anyone could be forgiven for deciding to pick up the television remote — and probably a bottle of beer — instead of a book. When you read and write for a living, pleasure reading can too easily fall by the wayside.

After all, I presume the last thing an account wants to do when he gets home is balance his checkbook.

But I find unmitigated joy in immersing myself in a good book. It’s a feeling unparalleled in other media, even this one.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.