My folks always had lots of books in the house. Both were teachers (Dad a college prof, Mom a junior high teacher, then high school, then college prof, too), so that explained a lot of them. My older brother, Richard, was reading something as he emerged from the womb and hasn't stopped. Younger brother, Dave, was/is also a big reader. I sort of piddled along for a number of years before I ignited, as well. And nowadays I often find Joyce buried in a pile of books, as well. So ... such bookie homes I've known.
I can still remember a number of titles on my parents' shelves. Dad had a lot of religious books (he was an ordained Disciples of Christ minister--and did lots of preaching here and there throughout my boyhood--filling in on Sundays here and there for ministers who were ill or on vacation), but they didn't really interest me too much. And Mom's books about teaching didn't exactly emit much allure, either.
Out in the living room, though, there were the general interest books--the books they read for fun or general edification (or to display to impress their friends? and visitors?). I remember some titles by poet John Ciardi, who was once in our home when he was doing something up at Hiram College. Mom and he were going to work on a textbook about poetry--but it didn't work out, and I don't really know what happened. I know that "John Ciardi" were two words I heard a hundred times a day for a while--and then ... not at all.
The Egyptian and The Etruscan, novels by Mika Waltari, were also on our shelves in those days, as well as H. G. Wells' The Outline of History. Collections of verse by Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. I can see the dust jackets, too, of H. L. Mencken's multi-volume The American Language.
As regular readers of these posts know, Joyce and I spend a week each summer in Stratford, Ontario, seeing plays and trying to forget about responsibilities and time's wingèd chariot hurrying near. Among our regular rounds there: visiting the book shops--and there are several very good ones (one fewer than before: Callan's is gone). One we really like is a second-hand shop, right across the street from the small Studio Theater, where we see several plays each week. The shop is called The Book Stage, and we like to stop there before going over to see a show, to walk around in its crowded rooms (with books, with people). As you can see from the picture, The Book Stage was once a private home, and there really is very little room inside to maneuver.
Most of the owner's (an older German man--who can be ... crusty) inventory comprises old books, but he has a few new ones, too--like copies of the plays the Festival is producing that summer. I almost always buy something there, even though I've vowed (privately, publicly) that my old-book-buying days are over.
Well, a few weeks ago when we were there, I was scrunching along one of his walls (some, uh, corpulent customers were there as well), when my face found itself right in front of this book--This Is My Best. And tears immediately visited my eyes: That book, published in 1942, was on my parents' bookshelf my entire life.
Edited by Whit Burnett (1900-1972--thank you, Wikipedia), the founder of Story magazine, the volume holds--as the title page says--"over 150 self-chosen and compete masterpieces, together with their reasons for their selection." Burnett invited some of the greatest living writers to contribute their "best," and what a collection of names and pieces: Dreiser, Hemingway ("Macomber"), Mencken, Cather, S. Lewis, D. Parker, Frost, Glasgow, U. Sinclair, R. Wright, L. Hughes, Faulkner, Millay, W. C. Williams, Marianne Moore, W. Stevens, E. O'Neill, Wilder, Thurber, Hellman, J. Dewey, Sandburg, and so many others.
The intros by the writers are fascinating. Frost wrote, "My favorite implements (after the pen) are the axe and the scythe, both of which besides being tools of peace have also been weapons of war" (278). And Edgar Lee Masters has a one-sentence intro: "I don't say that in this poem I reached my most satisfactory expression though I think it is one of my best in blank verse" (671). The poem is "Tomorrow Is My Birthday." It's about a dozen pages long--but here's a link.
So, anyway, how could I not buy that volume when it presented itself so patently to me? It was a mere $25 (Canadian). A bargain. After all, what price, tears? Or memory? Or a connection to my lost father? My aged mother?