Find­ing old friends

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OPINIONS - Robin Beres

Stay­ing home for weeks on end can get tire­some. Even sur­rounded by a hus­band and two grown kids, one still longs to get out and about and in­ter­act with oth­ers. How nice it would be to fi­nally meet our new grand­daugh­ter, en­joy din­ner with friends at a restau­rant or a sip a beer at a lo­cal brew­ery.

Un­til those things are al­lowed, how­ever, we sit at home. We’ve scrubbed the bath­rooms, cleaned the bed­rooms, re­ar­ranged the fur­ni­ture — and even re­painted the din­ing room. The yard and gar­den look re­spectable. We’ve Skyped and FaceTimed and Zoomed with our kids and fam­i­lies to cel­e­brate births, grad­u­a­tions, a com­mis­sion­ing and other life events. We’ve tried to stay busy and to re­main pos­i­tive and keep en­nui at bay.

But some days, it seemed the lethargy was win­ning.

And then it hap­pened. Con­vinced there was “noth­ing” to read, one day we de­cided to take stock of just how many books are in this house. We knew there were a lot. My hus­band and I both are read­ers and our five kids read.

But we still were amazed to count 981 books in bed­rooms, the liv­ing room, the TV room and tucked out of sight on wall-length at­tic shelves.

Dur­ing the count, we re­dis­cov­ered old fa­vorites, great clas­sics, some cen­tury-old reads and a myr­iad of top­ics for every taste range. And it is fas­ci­nat­ing to note just how many fic­tion books have been writ­ten about plagues that threat­ened to de­stroy civ­i­liza­tion. Michael Crich­ton’s “An­dromeda Strain” was writ­ten in 1969 but still is a nail-biter. Stephen King’s 1978 post-apoc­a­lyp­tic “The Stand” is a great story of good vs. evil, but at

This 1915 first edi­tion of “The

Lost Prince” by Frances Hodg­son Bur­nett was re­dis­cov­ered in an at­tic book­case.

1,320 pages, it might take the en­tire quar­an­tine to fin­ish. Geral­dine Brooks’ “Year of Won­ders: A Novel of the Plague,” writ­ten in 2002, is es­pe­cially timely. Set in 17th cen­tury Eng­land, it’s the story of a vil­lage that quar­an­tines it­self for a year to stop the plague’s spread. And Ken Fol­lett’s “Whi­te­out”

(2005) is as en­gross­ing as any of his books. One other book, “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Hu­man So­ci­eties” (1999) by Jared Di­a­mond isn’t fic­tion and it isn’t a “fun” read, but it’s a wealth of in­for­ma­tion.

Dur­ing the big count, not­ing the sub­jects and types of books in each room was fas­ci­nat­ing. Our daugh­ters’ old book­shelves still are filled with the beloved “Harry Pot­ter” se­ries and sev­eral se­ries of those vam­pire love sto­ries and other fan­tasy types that were so pop­u­lar with teens a few years back. The shelves near­est to my hus­band’s side of the bed are over­flow­ing with lit­er­ally dozens of nov­els from Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” se­ries. And in the liv­ing room are the more “grown-up” books — from old

Tom Clan­cys and John Gr­ishams to more con­tem­po­rary nov­els and lots of his­to­ries, au­to­bi­ogra­phies and bi­ogra­phies. Most have been read (some even all the way through).

But it was in the at­tic that the real trea­sures were dis­cov­ered — isn’t that where most fam­ily trea­sures are found? Dusty, longig­nored shelves of books seemed to come alive as we read ti­tles and pulled out and ex­claimed over old fa­vorites, beloved chil­dren’s books and for­got­ten clas­sics.

Some brought back a flood of mem­o­ries. It was easy to trace the growth of our kids as their read­ing choices evolved from Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” to the Cap­tain Un­der­pants, Goose­bumps and Way­side School se­ries and then on to “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “A Se­ries of Un­for­tu­nate Events,” “The Lord of the Rings Tril­ogy” and of course, the re­quired school read­ing lists of clas­sics.

And then we came upon some de­light­ful finds — old books handed down from my par­ents and even their par­ents be­fore. A 1915 first edi­tion of “The Lost Prince” by Frances Hodg­son Bur­nett is in re­mark­ably fair con­di­tion; a yel­lowed and brit­tle, ob­vi­ously of­ten read copy of Ho­ra­tio Al­ger Jr.’s “The Young Ex­plorer” with “Re­ceived of Henry, Christ­mas 1918” in­scribed on the fly­leaf; and a 1928 is­sue of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” by Erich Maria Re­mar­que.

Hold­ing these old books in hand, I can­not help but won­der who else has read them. Who were they? How many young boys and girls, now long dead, but then with their whole lives in front of them, curled up with these nov­els and dreamed of their own great ad­ven­ture and ex­ploits?

In the end, yes, we did find dozens of books nei­ther of us have ever read. And to think that all the while I was mop­ing about and feel­ing bored, with lit­tle to do and nowhere to go — there were lit­er­ally hun­dreds of old friends right here just wait­ing for me to em­bark on my own read­ing jour­neys across time and dis­tance.


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