This weekend, I had the displeasure of dealing with a minor flood in my basement. No lasting damage was done, except to the tall bookshelf that used to house my collection of books. Checking dozens of books for water damage and drying out the damp ones is not exactly my idea of a party. Nonetheless, it gave me a chance to think about how I came by these volumes and why I still keep them around.
Like anybody who’s gone to college for the liberal arts, I have a collection of books that I studied for classes. Some of them are laborious volumes of criticism and theory, and others are amusing novels that don’t take a day or two to read. What they all have in common is the level of scrutiny I have given them. I have analyzed and discussed their contents on an academic level, and I have a good understanding of where they fit in with their genre and their time period.
Other books in my little library are familiar in different ways. There are encyclopedias of magical creatures, of fairy tales, of gods and goddesses from ancient civilizations around the globe: these, I go back to when I feel like I need to know how a particular mythic narrative works. Then, there are favorite novels, which I lose myself in to remind myself of the sheer pleasure of the written word. There are books of poetry, which I enjoy for their varied beauty at the same time as I mine them for lessons on effective technique.
I think it’s good to consider the relationships we have with different texts in our lives – even boring ones, like the drivers’ manuals in our glove boxes or the Idiot’s Guide to Cooking Things in Crock Pots. As writers, we seek to give each of our works a purpose. By considering the purposes of our favorite texts, we become a little more aware of how the best authors make their texts serve those purposes.