My Autobiography in Books

You are what you read. Never has this rang so true after reading William Kuhn’s Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books (Nan A. Talese, 2010).

I remember John Kennedy, Jr., giving a statement to the media shortly after his mother’s death. It struck me as odd at the time:

“My mother died surrounded by her friends and her family and her books, and the people and the things that she loved. She did it in her own way, and on her own terms, and we all feel lucky for that.”

Books. Inanimate objects that ranked high enough to warrant credit at her death bed. What does our choice of reading material say about us?

My idea of a perfect day - reading and writing.

They expose our personal interests whether it be in politics, art history, or alternative medicine. They reveal how we interpret the human condition. They can shape our thoughts and open up a world of knowledge to us, without ever having to leave the comfort of our living rooms.

So what does my personal book collection reveal about me? For starters, is speaks of my heritage. I enjoy collecting old books on Maine history. Some of my favorites are:

Saint Croix: The Sentinel River by Guy Murchie. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1947.

Military Operations in Eastern Maine and Nova Scotia by Frederick Kidder. Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1867.

Documentary History of the State of Maine containing The Baxter Manuscripts, Vols XIX (1914) and XIV (1910). Ed. by James Phinney Baxter. Portland, ME: Lefavor-Tower Co.

Narrative of the Town of Machias: The Old and the New, the Early and the Late by George W. Drisko. Machias, ME: The Press of the Republican, 1904.

Although I understand the appeal of popular “beach reads,” I tend to gravitate more toward straight human drama – no riding off into the sunset endings for me. I want my fiction to feel true and real. Here are a few recent additions that meet my criteria for an engrossing read: The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold; Good Harbor by Anita Diamant; and, Away by Amy Bloom.

Memoir has become a favorite of mine over the past two to three years. Here are a few you’ll find of my bookshelf: The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham; A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas; If You Knew Suzy by Katherine Rosman; and, Fury by Koren Zailckas.

I try to read at least one classic a year. Some are re-reads from my high school and/or college days that I keep handy: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; and, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I enjoy attending book talks/signings around the metro area. This past year I acquired Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis by Rosalynn Carter and Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushie. Both were wonderful events held at the Carter Center. Rushdie blew me away with his insights and charm.

Religious studies has been a life-long interest of mine. I like to keep my Bible within reach, specifically the Holy Bible w/ Apocrypha (New Rev. Standard Version). The same Bible I’ve had since college (21 years – ugh!!!), full of notes. I also own and love two books by my former professor, James Tabor: The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity; and, Restoring Abrahamic Faith.

Finally, I have what I like to call my “tools of the trade.” These include books such as: On Writing Well, 30th Anniversay Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser; The Best American Essays 2010, edited by Christopher Hitchens; and, Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 2nd ed., compiled by Christine A. Lindberg.

One of my favorite quotes is Thomas Jefferson’s, “I cannot live without books.” Many say that the art of the printed and bound word may be in its twilight years. While I recognize the benefits of the e-book (portability for one), I shudder to think that collecting books will one day become an activity for the eccentric neophobe.

I can just imagine, “Jill died surround by her friends and her family and her trusty e-reader.” Doesn’t exactly evoke the same feeling, does it?

Jill Prouty

Jill is a reader, writer, and professional librarian who enjoys spending her free time with her husband of twelve years and their two sons. She has an MSLS from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a BA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.