I guess it goes without saying that I love books. I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. Without going into the details of my slow start to reading and the books that brought me to love it, by 8th grade I had read the entirety of Mom’s V.C. Andrews collection, which makes her either amazing or negligent as a parent, you decide. It got me into reading romance, which were also the only books I could buy for 50 cents a piece second hand while still in high school and thus, jobless. The greatest gift I could get for Christmas or birthdays was a gift certificate for Chapters. It was also the easiest way to piss off friends and family when asked what I wanted. There was (and is) nothing more pleasing than a shelf full of books. My bedroom was lovingly(?) nicknamed the fire hazard. It got to the point that Dad had to angrily refuse to let friends of the family offer me their used bookshelves. It still isn’t uncommon to find four or five books under my pillow.
Alex shares my love of books. It’s one of the many points of commonality we share, and possibly one of the more important ones. We dream of having a house of our own with an entire room devoted just to books, but more than likely it’ll be that every room is just an extension of the library. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is books.
When we moved to Japan we did so with the intention of being here for only a year. Our separate book collections then, stayed in our respective countries. Our plans changed, as these things do, and now our stay here is looking to be indefinite. Unfortunately, this put Alex’s book collection in jeopardy and due to having no place to store her books while the logistics of moving them across the world could be figured out, she was forced to part with the majority of her collection. My books remained with my grandfather and are shipped over in bits and pieces when I go over to visit.
Our collection in Japan, therefore is much smaller than it could be, but it is growing. We buy books off of Amazon with such regularity that our tiny Japanese townhouse can hardly support the bookshelves we need. With my trip back to Canada coming up in December, and new books arriving in the mail weekly, Alex bought us a new bookshelf and we did the first ever real categorizing of our collection. Warning, the following blog post is long, and possibly pointless. Don’t say I didn’t warn you:
Up at the top we have our tall and thick books or, as one guest put it, “The books that make you feel smart, right?” Yeah, the books that make us feel smart. You happy now? The little gold book is a turn of the century book of nursery rhymes that’s been passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me. I love the illustrations and the variety of rhymes. They’re good inspiration. Alex absolutely loves Sherlock, so that one is her baby. The one beside it is my second copy of The Tale of Genji. I have another one back in Canada, but after living in Kyoto, where much of the book is centered, I needed to be reading it here and bought a second copy. It’s a very dense book. I’ve been reading it for over three years and it still doesn’t feel like I’ve made any progress. Anansi Boys is probably my favorite book by Neil Gaiman because of spiders, you know? And I was very pleased to find more books in Terry Brooks’ Landover series. This one is unread, though. It’s been so long that I’ll have to reread the entire series to remember what it is that’s happened. Curse you goldfish memory!
Books by Steven Brust get their own shelf because they’re tall and I have a lot of them. He’s the only author I will consistently buy in hard cover; it’s impossible to be patient enough for his books to come out in paperback. These were also the first books I shipped to Japan when I realized I was going to stay here forever. Some books you just can’t be without.
In attempting to arrange our books like a bookstore, the anthologies were placed first. I just finished reading 50 Great Short Stories which I can only describe as sepia. For the most part, the stories were enjoyable, and I could understand why they would be considered ‘great’. However, I think the book would be better titled, 50 Great Short Stories from Long Ago or 50 Great Short Stories by Authors Who are No Longer With Us. I’m sure these much more apt titles were axed in the name of brevity. The other anthologies I haven’t cracked open yet (the classic horror anthology notwithstanding; I’ve read each of those stories in their own separate books). The New Writers’ Anarchy which Alex just had her short story published in is there and a couple books donated to us by one who doesn’t share our book collecting hobby. Alex’s copy of The Last Unicorn is here, as well as the signed copy of Lost Souls that she got me for Valentine’s Day one year. Considering a friend of mine has “lost” my lovingly dog-eared original copy, I hold this one very near and dear. Beside it, that thin, unnamed little volume is the short story inspiration for Lost Souls. Yes, I do gloat a little that I have a copy of it. Drawing Blood, by the way, is the only horror novel that has ever succeeded in giving me nightmares on two separate occasions. Take from that what you will.
Here we have the rest of the Landover series which I powered through in under a week one summer back when ‘responsibility’ had about as much power over me as the word ‘diet’. I miss those days. Here’s a few more of Brust’s books. Dragon and The Lord of Castle Black are among my favorites by him. Almost invisible beside those is A Clockwork Orange which was recommended to me years ago by a friend and would probably have gone unread (I’m wary of book recommendations by friends) if university had not had me read it. I absolutely loved it, by the way. I’m sure that says something about me. Yes, there are two copies of The Secret Garden there. Deal with it. Also, Ender’s Game which I’ll admit is a good book (and probably one of the only times a friend has recommended me a good book) despite recent revelations about the author.
ADD bookshelf demands a break in fiction! When Alex and I decided to seriously start writing we bought some books from the Write Great Fiction series because WOO! pretty colors! They’re mostly hit or miss. I like the Description & Setting book the best, and Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint was helpful as well, but mostly the books talk about things I already knew. Still, they’re good references to have when hitting a point of “man, my writing sucks!” All the publishing books are Alex’s. For a while, she wanted to get into the publishing industry. She was going to move up to Vancouver and transfer to my university for her masters degree and everything. Then she was told you can’t be a publisher and a writer both, so that fell through. Expletive Deleted is a fun, informative book on the etymology of swearing and curse words. I love it. It’s great for when I need to create a new curse that can still be understood by readers. Also, there’s an entire chapter on ‘shit’. Raise your hand if you giggled with me on that one. Oh yeah. The Describer’s Dictionary is a great tool for writers, especially those like me who wish they knew everything, but don’t and it makes them sad, and frustrated. It is, unfortunately, not as exhaustive as I would like, but for a reverse dictionary, it’s not all that bad. The Emotions Thesaurus is also a nice resource, though it was a little more disappointing. It offers some great words for common emotions and examples of visual cues that indicate those emotions, but anyone with access to the internet and a pair of working eyes should have the same ability.
And here is our poor, lonely humanities non-fiction section. This shelf hurts me the most because I love humanities so much. Especially social science. When I go back to Canada I’ll bring back my poli-sci textbooks to make this shelf look a little more impressive. That Patterns of Religion textbook has saved my ass in many an internet debate of religion. I bought the Socrates book when I was listening to online lectures in philosophy, but then my computer crashed and I lost the place I was at and rather than spend 5 minutes figuring it out again, I moved on to something less temperamental. One day I’ll read it. Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents was a book I nabbed from my university’s used bookstore. To this day I feel a little guilty for depriving a starving student of a cheap book for their coursework, but I’d liked so many floating quotes from this book that I needed to have a copy for myself.
Oh, god, this post is going to go on forever! Region specific, non-fiction, reference. My A History of Japan is all bright and blue there making me wonder how many histories of Japan there are every time I see it. It’s a good book, as far as history books go. Don’t get my wrong, I like history, but after a while it gets hard to uncross my eyes off of a block of solid text. Several books on how to explore Kyoto that are more or less useless for anyone without a firm grasp on the language and a lot of money. Some photography books we bought from the temples we’ve visited and a birdwatching book that Alex bought and never used. I share the same weakness. My guide to proper kyudo is in there, as well as her books on Ireland. One day we’ll go together. After we’re both famous, best selling authors who have quit our day jobs and have a luxury house out in the country. Yeah, after that. My Smithsonian Book of Reptiles & Amphibians is tucked in there too, for some reason. I love my creepy crawlies and if it were easier to raise reptiles in Japan, I’d have at least another two bearded dragons.
This is the point when I try to make you believe that Alex and I still actively study Japanese so that we can fully acclimate ourselves to living in a completely foreign country and- yeah, you don’t believe a word of that do you? Alex stopped caring about studying Japanese after her trip through hell in Japanese university. I stopped caring about studying Japanese after that one teacher who taught the class like it was a kindergarten. We’ve both tried since then to pick up serious study once more, but we’re both Very Busy People and lose the inclination soon after we pick it up. These are the lonely remains of those times.
Non-fiction! I think we actually have more non-fiction here than we do fiction which surprises me. It never used to be that way. These are our reference books. Some of them anyway. I have another two shelves worth back in Canada that didn’t make the ‘absolutely necessary’ cut on my last visit. A couple samurai books and my Heart of Kendo book which actually helped me develop my own philosophy of kendo. Alex bought a book on Renaissance art and antique maps. She likes that sort of thing more than I do. The Eyewitness Books are mine because shut up! I like reliving my childhood! Also, they are quick, easy references for things I might need to know. The What People Wore When book is probably the most disappointing in this entire shelf. It is a fantastic book on clothing, textiles, and period fashion, but it is largely Euro-centric. It would be a wonderful tool for writing if I were writing a European-like fantasy setting, but I’m not. I’m writing about the bloody desert and there’s a whole 3 pages for Africa and nothing on the middle east or South America. I am disappointed, book and I shake my head at you.
More non-fiction reference books! These are our mythology books. There’s the standard dragon, unicorn, sea monster and the like. Mythologica was an incredibly expensive gift from my best friend and I am madly in love with this book even today. It’s every ancient history class that was never taught to me in school. The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures was a bit disappointing. It has a great long list of creatures, but no illustrations which was what I was hoping for. The book was wrapped up when I bought it so I never got a peek inside. Sneaky. Conversely, the Magical Creatures Bible is more or less beautifully illustrated, though not as full. I’ll take what I can get. Alex and I labored over whether the Bhagavad Gita should go on the humanities shelf or the mythology shelf. You can see for yourself where it landed. I studied a much more abridged version of it in my first religious studies course. Imagining Arjuna and Krishna involved in the most epic of bromances really got me through the semester.
Oh, the encyclopedias! Alex bought these cheap. We realized that there were vast, gaping holes in our knowledge of cultural stuff mostly, but not limited to food, music and textiles. That’s what those big green books are: world wild encyclopedias on culture across the globe, not just Europe. I thought I’d never see the day. The thick black book on the left that needs to be on its side is The Elements Vault. It’s a book for adult children like myself who yearn for learning, but with pictures and colors and mystery pockets. I’m all about the mystery pockets. This book goes into great detail of each of the elements on the periodic table, from the very basic to the sort of chemistry that I will never be able to understand. Plus there are samples of some of the elements. The two thin bronze books beside it are from the Taiwan National Palace Museum. Alex bought them for their stone, ivory and wood carvings that are just too amazing to put into words. The talent of ancient craftsmen just blows the mind.
Moving right along, these are our art reference books. Mine are all on acrylics; Alex owns the ones on watercolors and never shall we understand the others medium. Why yes that is a book on Edo period erotic art tucked in the middle there. I’m so glad you spotted that, hypothetical reader who can read kanji. It’s a fun book. Every culture, in every time period has its own, unique porn. Sometimes very unique. 77 Dances, to bring things back to a more classy place, is a book on calligraphy. Not something I have patience for. Nor do I have the patience for the intricate gold leaf lettering that is the subject of that squat, gray book in the middle. That one is Alex’s. If she ever produces anything as a result of that book I’ll post it here so everyone can gawk in as much awe as I certainly will.
And we’ve made it back to fiction! Didn’t think we’d ever get back here, did you. Don’t worry, it won’t last long. A lot of classics here: Don Quixote, The Canterbury Tales, Robinson Crusoe, The Old Curiosity Shop and a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo which is way thicker than the one I have back in Canada which leads me to believe that the one I read is an abridged version. Damn. Also, The Book of the Courtier which I will absolutely read very soon. I promise. I need to anyway to get the tone right for my current MS.
Here a few more books by Neil Gaiman that I can’t live without. The three tall ones are all Alex’s which I haven’t read yet. The Sword of Truth series (of which the latter half of seems to have escaped my camera, oh well) which I loved in high school but failed to impress Alex. She said it’s too needlessly violent and I guess I can see her point. The thing that turned me off of the books in the end was that the torments that the main character is put through started to feel contrived. It stopped being enjoyable to read.
The Iliad is there waiting for when I have a couple weeks to give to just reading. It hasn’t happened yet. I loved High Fidelity and still couldn’t tell you why. It’s just a really good book. Wizard of the Grove is one of the rare fantasy books that I’ll actually reread on occasion. The characters are witty and sympathetic and it always makes me feel good at the end. Also, Tanya Huff is Canadian, so that fills me with a little pride. Most of my Wheel of Time books are in Canada, but I honestly gave up on this series a long time ago. It felt like the plot was just spinning its wheels a lot of the time and I lost interest. There’s a copy of The Love Poems of John Keats in there too, because there was no romantic period poet sexier than John Keats and no one will be able to convince me otherwise.
Magazines. Nothing really interesting here. There are some on hiking trails in Kyoto, some on cooking, and some on domestic decoration. A couple are short story or cultural tidbits in Japanese and English. There’s one or two that are from some famous temples that you can’t take pictures in, and a bunch of art history magazines that I love flipping through.
There’s a fraction of my Pratchett collection there. If it seems light, it is. I don’t know where the rest of it went. The Scarlet Pimpernel was a very enjoyable read after I got through the beginning and figured out which characters I was supposed to be sympathetic towards. I’d read it again some day. There’s one solitary representative of the vast Dragonlance collection that I left in Canada. I don’t know if this constitutes a guilty pleasure read. I get the feeling that it does. I’ve seen Dragonlance referred to as “my first fantasy” and to some extent I agree. I don’t know, for some reason I feel like I should regard Dragonlance as the Nickleback of the fantasy world: something you only admit to enjoying when you were young and too stupid to know any better. There’s an abridged version of the Tale of Genji for people who don’t have four years to struggle through a novel. As far as L. M. Montgomery goes, I’m a bit ambivalent. I recognize that she’s considered a great among Canadian authors and I’ll never be forced to say that her writing is poor, but her books haven’t really resonated with me. I didn’t really like Anne of green Gables, even though all my friends did. Emily of New Moon is a decent book that came a little closer to my heart, but doesn’t really stick there. Deerskin has gone on Alex’s list of shame. I have a few of those books. We couldn’t decide if Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince should go with fiction or humanities. I called fiction, but if anyone disagrees, please let me know. Love the book, nonetheless. Also, Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint will forever be one of my favorite books.
Phew, almost at the end. There’s some more Pratchett! And Koda Rohan’s Pagoda, Skull & Samurai which is a lovely collection of Japanese short stories that I absolutely recommend. And, if anyone is interested in the original story of The Ring, there’s the trilogy by Koji Suzuki. Spoiler: the protagonist is actually a man. War and Peace is actually only there to look smart, I’ll never read it. (Just joking, I’ll read it eventually, but honestly, that book is intimidating!) If you’re looking for a non-sparkly vampire novel, Hotel Transylvania has always been a favorite book of mine. And way at the end there is Dragon Weather by Lawrence Watt-Evens who has not written a book I have not enjoyed.
The slender blue and white book near the left is Night by Elie Wiesel. Want to know the quickest way to confuse your psyche? Take a couple university courses that require you to read Night and A Clockwork Orange in the same week. I loved both books, but it was really hard to switch from one to the other and not feel my soul knot itself up. I had sort of a thing with dragons growing up. Most of my first stories were dragon stories (no, they will never see the light of day. Ever.) Calling on Dragons was my middle school treasure, and I loved Dragon’s Blood in high school. I don’t know if I grew out of them. I don’t think I want to. The Story of the Stone is Alex’s collection. They’re on my must read list.
Alex is the Berkeley graduate, before you ask. She’s the smart cookie around here. This is mostly our collection of miscellaneous. The Book of Goodnight Stories has inspired me with its folk stories and illustrations since I was a kid. I own two copies of it, just in case I lose one. There’s a bunch of cooking and crocheting books here too that are Alex’s. I don’t cook very often, and when I do, it’s usually just something else added to cheese and garlic, so Alex cooks and I clean. She also has more patience for crochet than I do. I knit boring straight scarves when I have nothing better to do in the winter.
Haha! The last one! I bet you didn’t think we’d reach the end! I certainly didn’t. Wait, is anyone even still here? It doesn’t matter. This last shelf is just photo albums and some more language books. It sits under my art table where I don’t have to look at it. My Japanese to English dictionary of kendo terms is sitting down there too. That thing is absolutely necessary for my kendo blogging, and also for my understanding of what the hell is going on when I’m at practice.
And that’s all of it! If anyone actually read to the very end hoping there would be cookies and milk and all that, I hate to disappoint you but no. If anyone else would like to share their bookshelves, I’d love to see them! I love looking at people’s bookshelves. That sounded way creepier than I intended it to. For those of you who don’t have the five hours I just spent on arrangement, photographing and blogging about bookshelves, what are the gems of your book collection and why?