Friday, February 13, 2015

Books Aboard

My accidental, yet representative, mini-libary I acquired in Germany.

Ever since an encounter last year, I have been contemplating the power of books. In particular, I have been wondering about book collections or let’s call them spontaneous mini-libraries.

As boaters, that’s what we have: Sure, we take a few choice volumes from our library before casting off, but then what we add becomes more chance than choice. Some from exchange libraries in marinas, some from the bookstore we come across, one from the sailing couple in the last port. The whole library might only comprise, say, a dozen books.

In a story I am writing, the protagonist finds a sailboat that has been lost to his family for over a decade, and on which he has not set foot in 30 years. He happens upon his family’s long lost boat by chance. It has had been abandoned after a grounding 10 years earlier and as he comes to the boat, it is being sold as junk.

In one scene he looks at the books left on a shelf in the cabin. The books are from his German uncle who last owned the boat. So I name a handful of the books. In contrast to real-life mini-libraries, in a novel, nothing the author writes should be coincidental. The books say something about who the uncle is. Perhaps even a bit about the whole line of the family. So I wondered: Who comprises his canon? Who did the uncle surround himself with literarily? Which of his books would give us, as readers, as sense of his inspirations and beliefs?

In the novel, I can make it all quite tidy. Only the books relevant to his character are shown. But in real life, our bookshelves, and in particular our boat bookshelves are much more haphazard. We don’t “design” our collection and yet, they still reflect our character. They are quirkier than our libraries at home. They are more like moods or weather. Changeable.

I have just returned from spending about two months in Germany. As I was packing up my belongings for my return to America, I looked at my mini-library. I had picked out three of these books from home before the trip and came by the rest “en voyage.”  As I looked at this line-up, I recognized the constellation of a triangle: 1) The encounter last year which involved my mini-library on Phoenix back then. 2) The scene in my novel. 3) My Leipzig collection.

What did this collection say about me? I wrote about that for this post, but I’m not including it. It’s seems too self-absorbed. All I really wanted to do was mention this matter so perhaps you will take some delight at looking at your own shelf and see if you can derive meaning from it, as perhaps from a disjointed dream.

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