books, memory, and subjective perfection

For as long as I can remember, I have loved reading. My mom even has stories of me as a child illustrating my love of books. For example, there was the time she found a stack of overdue library books hidden away in my closet. Not because I had forgotten them, but because I didn't want to give them back! And the tears that came as a result of her telling me they had to be returned - I was a wreck. I also used to pile all of my books next to a chair for my dad to read to me over and over again. 

  My early appreciation of books started when I was around 27 months old!

My early appreciation of books started when I was around 27 months old!

Some of my most prized possessions are my favorite books - Watership Down, my mom's copies of the Nancy Drew series she passed down to me, The Giver, The Screwtape Letters and Promise, my sorority's new member manual are but a few. They've given me a chance to dream, to consider new ideas, or presented an opportunity to shape my world-view. I tend to collect books like some people collect photos or mementos meant to trigger a memory of a favorite trip or event. For me, books have that same trigger - they are the physical representations of many of my favorite memories. I can remember who it was that recommended a book to me and the impact that person had on my life. Or I'll remember where I was when I spent time reading a book and how that environment would envelope all of my senses at once. Opening a book that I've read over and over again brings not just familiar words on the pages but familiar feelings as well. 

Not long after I moved to Florida in 2014, Kurt and I had to move to a new house. What should have been a relatively easy process was complicated when our first car-load of boxes were stolen from the new house and with it, almost our entire combined library of books. Kurt lost almost all of his professional library while I lost the majority of my late childhood and early adolescent memories. Almost all my favorite books that had moved with me from Pennsylvania to Indiana and now to Florida were suddenly gone from my shelves. 

When physical items representing such a great amount of your collected memories and experiences are taken from you, it's like losing a part of yourself. Even now, more than a year after it happened, I can think about the books that were taken and this mixture of sadness and anger wells up inside of me; I want so much to replace what is missing, but I want to do it with my copies that were taken. For some reason, I feel like the memories held in the worn and familiar pages of those books won't fully return with newly purchased copies. 

One of the books stolen was a copy of the collected works of Jane Austen that had been my mom's, and it may be the reason I'm writing this post. You see for me, and for millions worldwide, Austen's world-view has shaped my own. She presents the world not in the way that it was - England during the Regency period was a horrible time for women - but as it could be. Austen shows, for example, in Pride and Prejudice that I should be as demanding of others as I am of myself, and that poise, intelligence, and grace are not simply words but character traits to which I should aspire. In Emma, Austen teaches that even with the best of intentions we can make terrible decisions, and that humility and perception must accompany even the most intelligent and cultivated woman. In short, Austen revealed to me facets of what living with subjective perfection really means: staying true to yourself (wild love of books and all!) while trying to become everything you could be.  

Kurt and I are currently in Colorado on our honeymoon. I can't wait to share all the photos and memories we made during this trip with you next week!

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