Monday, June 5, 2023

Fire! Fire!

 Q: The building’s on fire, what books do you save?

-from Susan


Not entirely hypothetical here in CA, alas. Not that I’d add a book to my go-bag with computer, two cat carriers, and box of documents, but if I could load the car with a small box of books, let’s see…


Honesty demands I admit the first books would be my own 6 novels in their various print and audio formats. With that out of the way, I’d be looking at my long shelf of signed and personalized books by writers I admire, among them several Minds colleagues, plus Sara Paretsky, Deborah Crombie, Rhys Bowen, Ann Cleeves, Sue Grafton…uh oh, I’ve filled the hypothetical banker’s box and I’m only partway through that shelf. Maybe to make my list, the books would have to be first editions?


I’d reel off some classic fiction, but there’s nothing that isn’t available easily in replacement hard copies. But, wait, I have the 1948 edition of Dante’s The Divine Comedy with the stunning Gustave DorĂ© illustrations that was in my parents’ library and that terrified me when I was ten. 

And an illustrated Canterbury Tales, circa 1946, with Arthur Szyk’s extraordinarily personable illustrations. Again, I sought out an old copy because I remembered it so vividly from childhood. 

Sadly, I don’t have any of the seminal books I cherished as a child, and some of those editions aren’t available even from rare book dealers, so that category is represented only by the few I searched out (and probably paid ten or twenty times their original retail prices to collect for my own nostalgic reasons).  


If this were a desert island challenge, I know precisely: Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Ulysses, the Chaucer, The Forsythe Saga, anything by David Sederis.


Pivot: Are there non-fiction books I have to rescue, and why? But how to sweep into the small space left in the banker’s box? Maybe something by David Engleman, partly because his books are short, and tickle the brain. Maybe The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert because if I were fleeing a climate-caused fire, some serious thinking about where our planet is going would be a sobering reminder of why I was in exile. Two art catalogs for sure, one of Richard Diebenkorn’s work, and one from a recent, stunning exhibition of their work that shows beautifully how thoroughly he was inspired by Henri Matisse. I probably couldn’t resist cramming in the exhibition catalog of the Impressionists in Winter that burned itself into my soul years ago.

And now, the box is full, too heavy to lift, and I’m staggering to the car, where the cats sit in their carriers, meowing nervously, and the sane part of me wonders why I felt I needed to curate a box of books as the smoke rises? But, of course, books are life, they feed our souls, challenge our intellect and emotions, teach us everything (including how to write). 


One last thing. I’d take my Kindle!



Dietrich Kalteis said...

Reading this made me smile, Susan. You saved the cats, the books, and even the Kindle. Bravo.

Susan C Shea said...

We get a lot of practice drills here, Dietrich!