Mar 282009
 

Last week I met with some fellow kindergartener’s mothers, and when I entered our hostess’s living room my first thought was, “Where are the books?”. There weren’t any. None. Not a single one.

Now, I understand that not everyone is as book-addicted as I am but slowly I’m starting to see why some of my students (or of the people visiting our home) are asking, “Have you read all of these books?” or “You sure do have a lot of books!” when they enter the room where I teach. This always leaves me confused because, well, the books in my room aren’t really “the books”. Most people who ask me if I have read all of these books are actually looking at the comic section. And yes, I have read all of those.

And this ties in with something I saw on somebody’s blog in 2006, and have been wanting to do every since, taking pictures of the books in the house. Also I will tell you a something about them to add a bit of extra interest. (I looked up what I remembered about that blogger and her blog, and here’s the actual post.)

So we’ll start with the room most of my visitors see first, my own room, the room where I’m teaching, surfing the net, doing my office stuff, write my morning pages, meditate,make music, and spin:

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This bookcase is placed behind the door so that students coming to me for the first time don’t really see it. It holds my comics (a lot of DC comics, especially Green Lantern, Bone, Sandman, Blankets, Cages, a jumble of graphic novels and plain superhero comics). On the bottom two shelves are my new age books, astrology, tarot, self-help, Julia Cameron, Feng Shui and my books about writing. On top of this shelf are my knitting and sewing books, and there are also a few books of sheet music crammed in between. (Today, when a package from Amazon arrived, my husband asked me if I had ordered new shelves with them, or better, a new room. Notice that the crafting books are threatening to push the box off the shelf.)

Left of my desk is a bookcase with more “respectable” books:

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In the middle of the top shelf are the books I bought but haven’t read yet, a book on html next to one on Buddhism, under that there’s the “biographies and memoirs”-section that holds Rita Mae Brown, Bill Bryson’s books (that I really loved reading but I can’t stand re-reading them, maybe I should get rid of those), artists’ biographies, and much loved, the letters of Dorothy L. Sayers, one of my very favorite authors ever. Anne Modesitt’s book “Knit With Courage” about the year when they found out her husband has cancer, and “Eat, Pray, Love” are obviously the latest additions. I loved them both. And, coming to think of it, I seem to be drawn to memoirs by either artists or people with cancer.

Under that you see miscellaneous music theory textbooks, and remnants of the days when I still was very interested in academic research. Books about Robert Schumann and his wife, books about female composers, about the “Matriarchy Myth”, cutlural anthropology, the almost complete works of Howard S. Becker, books on jazz, music theory, Brazilian music and such.

Of course books aren’t confined to shelves only:

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I often have the feeling that this corner of my desk shows my life in one glance. There’s a plastic Buddha next to the phone, a couple of knickknacks, a wooden box that my great-uncle (whom I never met) made for an aunt (whom I never met either because she died of tuberculosis when she was only 20), and that was a cherished possession of my maternal grandmother. The box holds my tarot cards. In the foreground is a pile of official papers, knitting and sewing patterns, magazines and books. There is “The Idle Parent” a book I love with a vengeance, and one of the few books I read in the last months that made me nod my head constantly, and then there’s a book called “Zum Buddha werden in 5 Wochen” (Becoming a Buddha in 5 weeks) that’s probably more of a joke than anything else but it looked entertaining in the book store.

Now to the last bookshelf in my room:

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It’s right next to the piano and holds most sheet music, an anatomy book for showing my singing students how their voices work, Tori Amos songbooks, Dresden Dolls songbooks, four or five tomes of Jazz standards (middle shelf), and my practice journals.

(I’m beginning to think I should have made this into a series. I didn’t know I had so much shelves in just one room.)

I’ll spare you a picture of my husband’s books in his teaching room/office/studio but there are about two shelves holding books about music, and musicians there. Also a nice little pile of what he is currently reading.

The next room would be our former guest bedroom. Since we have removed the bed from there, and are using it as a TV room we probably should be calling it a living room, only it’s so small that we don’t even have a sofa in there, only two chairs.

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It holds books that don’t fit in anywhere else, like our bibles, the ephemerides, my husband’s astrology books, fairy tales, children’s books that we don’t want to get rid of, things like that. Under that bookcase is a table that has my knitting basket and a pile of my son’s books that I don’t want to get rid of yet but they don’t have a place either. Books in transition:

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Now we enter the old part of the house, the room that once was our living room, and will be again some day, but for now it’s my son’s room. Where we also cook on the wood stove, dry laundry, and keep most of our books:

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First, the actual in-use children’s books. There is a very good series of non-fiction books called “Wieso? Weshalb? Warum?” about the usual topics, dinosaurs, Native Americans, space, the earth, numbers, letters, and such. There are a few treasured stories, classics like “Pippi Longstocking”, or newer ones like the “Drache Kokosnuss” (Dragon Coconut) series. The lower left shelf holds the books we got from the library.

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This one mostly holds my husband’s older books. The complete works of Goethe, Heine, Shakespeare, Adorno, Benjamin, Trakl, some Proust, a lot of philosophy books. On the top shelves are our art books, most of those also belong to my husband. The thing above the tea kettle is our encyclopedia, by the way, my husband gave it to me as a birthday present, and it has got art by Udo Lindenberg, a German musician. the art is a bit weird, and I have frequently found myself in a position to explain to my son why there are aliens, and nuns, the devil and all these women without much clothes on there. That’s what you get when you keep pulling out the encyclopedia to look things up all the time, I guess.

Next you see the “wall of books”:

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This is where I keep my “real books”. (There’s also a guitar, I know. I could easily have done a post on “guitars around the house, too. this one belongs to my son. No, he can’t play it.)

Top left is fiction. In alphabetical order you’ll find authors like: Rita Mae Brown, John Irving, Tom Robbins, and a few others that I don’t remember at the moment. (In case you’re wondering, I did start to read “Ulysses”, and rather liked it but then I lost the groove and never finished it.) Under that are two shelves of detective stories, again Rita Mae Brown, Amanda Cross, Diane Mott Davidson, and my all-time favorite Dorothy L. Sayers. If I ever get rich I’ll buy all her novels again, this time in English. I only own the German translations to most of them because I started reading her when I was 12 or so. Recently I bought all the Miss Marple-stories, those are the fat books lying on top of the others. (Maybe I really should stop buying books.) Under that are spy thrillers. I especially cherish the original James Bond novels (which I can’t seem to find in English, what a pity, so I have to content myself with translations) and the “Modesty Blaise”-series which I can’t seem to find in English either. Weird.

The lowest shelf holds all of the cookbooks we use. There are more in a box in the garage but these are the ones we’re using. We’d still like to have one on Chinese cooking but we don’t really cook much from recipes. Mostly it’s my husband starting out with whatever I brought home, and a vision. He’s a fabulous cook. Mostly we pull them out on Sundays and drool over the pictures.

The middle and right bookcases hold all of my science fiction and fantasy novels: Douglas Adams, C.J. Cherryh, Alan Dean Foster, Neil Gaiman, Robert A. Heinlein, Terry Pratchett (a lot of Terry Pratchett, in hardcover), J. K. Rowling, Stephen Donaldson, Cailín Kiernan, Tad Williams, a bit of Marion Zimmer Bradley, and then the poetry section. Emily Dickinson, Wilhem Busch (not exactly poetry but it rhymes), Christian Morgenstern, I’m not much of a poetry reader.

Then there’s another shelf of comics, mostly Ralf König, and some indie comics from the 80s, a shelf of self-help, and medicine books, books about weight loss and such, and on the top most shelf that you can barely see, the parenting books.

Next room: the kitchen. You might ask why we have books in the kitchen (and those aren’t cook books). Well, there’s this:

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And this:

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The magazine rack is for storing current reading, magazines and books, and I installed it to prevent the kitchen bench to look like the picture above. It looks untidy and things keep falling off the bench. Mostly through the crack where you can’t retrieve them without crawling under the table, and contorting yourself, and getting dust all over you and the books.

In theory each family member has a place for his or her stuff on the rack. As you might have thought, the top rack is mine. There you’ll find: “The Writing Diet”, “The Mindful Way Through Depression”, “Was glückliche Paare richtig machen” (What happy couples are doing right), and “Outsmarting the Midlife Fat Cell”. All of those have bookmarks in them which means that I’m in the process of reading or re-reading them. All of them haven’t been opened in weeks, too. None of them has been returned to it’s proper place because I still think they’ll help me. (Come to think of it I could really put the marriage book away. I read it through and it did help.)

The books I am currently reading are laying around on the kitchen bench. You can’t see them properly because I opted for realistic shots but there is “Drawing With Children” which I love, “No Idle Hands” a history of hand knitting in the US, “Custom Knits” which arrived today, and I already love it, and “The Creative Family” which I pulled out because I wanted to show my son what children are able to sew and make. There’s also a spinning magazine, and knitting bags.

Now we are going down into the basement:

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Travel guides. I threw most of them away because the information in them gets dated. Also I doubt that I will be going back to places I already visited anytime soon. You can tell that we aren’t big on traveling.

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More ethnology and cultural anthropology, and music education, and sheet music, and books on African and Brazilian and Indian music. Both my husband’s and mine. Also all the papers I wrote in university.

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And books about teaching music, “Mr. Nice”, and back issues of “Gitarre & Bass”, a guitar magazine my husband has been reading and collecting for decades now. We shouldn’t be storing these down here because the basement gets very damp in summer. All the books down here have a musty smell, and if you put anything on the floor it will get moldy. But as you can see for yourself, we’re running out of storage space here. And I’m actually going through the books at least once a year, and give some away.

As I said before there are still boxes of books in the garage (books that we don’t really use anymore but do want to keep anyway), boxes in the attic (books that I once wanted to sell but never got around to).

If you’re still with me you might be wondering about the books in the bedroom. And I thought to myself that there aren’t any books in the bedroom because I gave up reading in bed some time ago. When I do read in bed I’m always staying up too long, but then I remembered, and I had to get back and take yet another picture:

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This once was the place I kept the diapers, and my son’s clothes. Now it holds dictionaries. And the hand-dyed sock yarn. There’s a French dictionary, and Italian one, several German ones, a book of names, some grammar books, two Portuguese dictionaries, and two etymologies. By the way, which English etymological dictionary would you get? Or would you look on-line? We have two german ones, and I’m not really happy with those. I always have the same problem with dictionaries and encyclopedias, they are too small, and don’t hold the things I’m looking for.

On the other hand I might have just enough books for the moment…

Dec 182008
 

Dear son,

again, I’m not even mentioning your name in this letter, and I’m writing it in English which you can’t yet understand. But then, you can’t read German either, and you’ll probably be grateful to me that I didn’t make your adventures in diapers (back when you still wore them, and my blog was called “diapers and music”) google-able for your future friends and enemies.

You turned six today yesterday. A birthday that was only slightly less looked forward to than your fifth. It was overshadowed by the importance of becoming a “Vorschulkind” (entering the last year of kindergarten before elementary school), and of losing your first tooth on St. Niklas day, and therefore earning the privilege of pocket money.

This year wasn’t easy for all of us. Last winter you were happily part of a group of friends who played together every day at kindergarten, and you finally had found a best friend who liked much the same things as you. His mother told me that she saw you circling the sandbox over and over, talking and talking like old men taking a walk together. You dreamed up adventures, you wanted to go to the north pole in a sledge pulled by a unicorn, and reach the stars in a rocket that you built yourself. Then came the time when all of you realized that your friends wouldn’t be with you in kindergarten forever. That they would be going to school in the summer and you wouldn’t. In preparation for that you began to bicker, and quarrel, and what had been an easy and safe situation grew complicated.

During the summer I almost thought you were depressed. We fought a lot, about every day, you were angry at everything and everybody, and then, suddenly you’d turn around and be really needy. For the first time ever in your whole life you didn’t want to let me go in the mornings. Where all your life you had been waving goodbye to me with a happy smile and the certainty to see me again after work, now, you would cling to me and plead, “Mama, don’t go, stay with me.” You’re very much torn between your desire to grow and become independent, and your desire to be small and cared for. I have tried to help you feeling safe and loved, to hug you often, and to tell you how much I love you.

Over the past year you have grown 7 cm but you have only gained one pound. (I’m not worried, though, you’re looking fine and healthy.) Since spring you have been growing out your hair, you wanted it to grow long. You also wanted to dye it black but I think kindergarteners shouldn’t dye their hair, sorry.. I liked the way you looked with your wild golden curls. Yesterday, when I tried to tame your mane a bit to stop your hair from falling into your eyes you said you no longer wanted long hair. Because your grandmother doesn’t like it. Now you have a haircut that’s shorter but not the crew cut you had before. You’re lucky, I have never ever cut anybody’s hair with scissors. I’d say for that it looks really good.

Again, you have learned so much. Whenever I talk to your kindergarten teacher she is full of praise for your knowledge, and interest, for the way you treat the other children, and your language skills. It was a surprise for all of us when you had the impression that you weren’t doing well at the “Vorschule”. You thought it was only you who had to struggle a bit with this concept of sitting still for twenty minutes, drawing what you were told, doing things that could be “right” or “wrong” in the end.

I have to confess that I always expected you to do well in an “academic” setting. As you do. Gaining knowledge, learning, thinking, and remembering is easy for you. I love that. The thing that comes as a surprise to me is the fact that in addition to that you are so popular among your peers. I can hardly enter the kindergarten building without somebody asking me if their son or daughter can have a playdate with you. As somebody who always had troubles fitting in I hope you appreciate how precious a gift that is. Interestingly, when I ask you about your day you typically tell me about the times someone was not so nice, or something didn’t go as planned. You rarely talk about the fact that everybody wanted to play with you.

While you talk endlessly you don’t talk much about the things that happened during the day, or the people you spent time with. Again, this isn’t something I would have expected. You’re telling me all about your visions for projects, things you want to do, or buy, places you’ll go but I always feel a bit weird when your friend’s mothers come to me saying, “My child talks about your child all the time! They spend so much time together!” Well, I didn’t hear anything. (It might be a bit mean to say that my child talks about my child all the time, too.)

Still you’re not an inconsiderate person. The other day when you had a friend over, a friend who doesn’t like to draw pictures, you told him, “Just keep on drawing, you’ll get better in no time.” and “When I started kindergarten I couldn’t draw either and then I drew, and drew, and drew, and now I’m so good at this.” and in the end, “This is quite good. See, you can learn this.” I fear that teaching is another things you have inherited from your parents.

I really love that you have started learning a musical instrument, even if recorder is not your favorite thing in the world. Every time I force you to practice you like it in the end. The thing I don’t have to force you to do is playing drums. Your father has borrowed a drum set, and we are both filled with pride to the brim every single time you sit down to play. For somebody who is not quite six, and who never had drum lessons (well, apart from the informal ones you get from your father) you’re really good.

But the thing that you like the most, again, is drawing pictures, and building things out of cardboard and glue.

Every day I’m telling you that I love you so that you don’t forget it, and it’s really nice to see that you’re doing the same thing. That, even though you’re very manly nowadays, and reserve your fantasies of fairies and bunnies for your private moments at home, you still think it’s not unmanly to hug your friends, and the people you love.

I wish you a very happy year as a six-year-old, may your last year of kindergarten be merry and bright, and your transition to elementary school smooth, and uneventful. Happy birthday, my son!

Sep 142007
 

Dear De,

I don’t know if you can access your e-mail at the moment, and so I’m writing to you here: happy birthday to you.

I think it was about a year ago that we first met through our computers. I had seen your comments on a lot of blogs that I liked. I got curious because those comments were so friendly and thoughtful and personal. So I started reading your blog too. I loved it. I decided that I wanted to come back and read all of your archives, something I don’t do very often. I went back and found that I actually had read every single post when I visited for the first time. Then you started commenting on my blog. You were the first regular commenter I had.

I just read through the e-mails we have written to each other and found one where I wrote that I felt like I had found a new friend in you. This is what I wrote:

There’s a reason why your blog is the second one on my blogroll. What you have written has resonated with me. When I first came to it I wanted to read all your archives. then I sat down with a cup of tea and found that I already had read all there was, because you had been blogging for such a short time. Then you started commenting on my blog and I told my husband, “I think I made a new friend.” Though I’m never sure how much we know about each other if we’re reading only our blogs and comments. On the other hands I have a friend whom I haven’t seen for two years. Maybe I know more of what’s going on in your life at the time that I know of her (We haven’t been e-mailing or calling each other either.).

The last year hasn’t been easy for you. You were often feeling low, you lost a friend, and now you have moved into a new house that hasn’t quite become home yet. You and I are no longer sending e-mails to each other daily. First you decided that real life should get more attention and then it was my turn to put family and life outside of blogs first. I’m very happy that you have a blog again and it’s always a pleasure to receive a comment from you. You are one of the people who make the blogosphere feel like a friendly and warm place. You are such a generous person that you paid tribute to commenters by creating the gratitude button.

I feel like I should be a better blogger friend and show up on your blog on time and for once write something a little more than, “Love your post, will come back and write something intelligent later.” only to never return. But then I always feel like I should do more of everything and that would be very hard indeed.

In the past year you have made my life richer and less lonely and I’d like to thank you for that. I hope your next year will be pleasant and happy. That you and your family will stay healthy, and that your new home will soon be finished and comfortable. Maybe we’ll never meet in real life, and blogging friendships are a fragile thing but I wish you well and hope to continue being friends with you. So, while I’m here and you’re there and we can’t sit at the same table in real life, have a piece of cake on me, or two if you like. (In fact, since it isn’t a real cake, why not imagine eating all of it. And have a glass or two of champagne with it…)

Torte

(And if anybody reading here doesn’t know De (which I almost can’t imagine), you can find her blog here: “Shily, Shall I Dilly-Dally?” formerly known as “Sober Briquette. A Dour Bit of Carbon. Under Pressure.” or “Sober Briquette“. And if you only read one thing she wrote (and I doubt you will) read her take on the “10 things I love about me”-meme, the banana split post.)