by Nancy Northcott
One of the difficult parts of being a book person is having to purge the shelves. There just isn't room to keep every book I ever buy. So about every four or five months, I go through and weed out books I haven't read in a very long time or books I've owned for a very long time but haven't read. I've learned to be fairly ruthless over the years, but there are some books that survive purge after purge even though I may not have read them recently. These are my "keepers."
At the top of the list is Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. If an author were only ever going to write one book and this was it, I think that would make one content. The book resonates with me because Scout's viewpoint is so engaging and because so many people in Maycomb care about doing the right thing. Gone With the Wind has survived years of purges. My copy belonged to my grandmother, so sentiment may play a role in its longevity, but I think Scarlett would have her own place if I'd bought the book new. She makes me impatient and appalled at times, but the woman has backbone. Even though I don't fully accept Mitchell's rendering of southern society, I admire the detail with which she did it. I haven't read either of these books in years, but I'm pretty sure that I'll eventually want to.
Then there are the series. The Harry Potter books will probably be family heirlooms. The Inglis Fletcher novels about the Carolinas will stay as long as I live. I fell in love with them years ago and never fell out. Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles swept me into Renaissance Scotland and carried me along to France, Russia, and the Mediterranean before coming full circle to end in Scotland. I almost didn't finish reading the first book. I didn't like anyone but the blind woman. Trusting the friend who gave the book to me, though, I persevered, only to have Dunnett turn everything inside out in the last hundred pages or so. I blitzed straight through the rest of the series in a week, reading late at night, on my lunch break, and during dinner (I was single then). I bought them in hardback when my mother and I went to England, the only trip the two of us took together, and lugged them back in my suitcase. So they stay. Someday I'll want to be swept across the Renaissance world again.
I loved Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels and Robert Jordan's massive, unfinished Wheel of Time saga (I selfishly hope he has a successor who'll get Rand to the mountain) and Gordon R. Dickson's Childe cycle and Dorothy L. Sayers' marvelous Lord Peter Wimsey and everything Georgette Heyer ever wrote. Their stories have fascinating worlds and noble, but not perfect, characters and intriguing plots. Hmm. All those authors are gone, as are Fletcher and Dunnett and Mitchell. Yet their books stay on my shelf through purge after purge. What was it Shakespeare said--something about the "evil men do liv[ing]after them" while "the good is oft interred with their bones?" Not for writers, it seems.
So what are your keepers? How do you choose them?