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The Books I Keep

I read a lot. It’s been that way all my life. Fantasy novels, mystery novels, thrillers, historicals, magazines, newspapers, online articles, pamphlets, booklets, whatever. I read with my morning coffee. Sometimes all day when I can. I read every night to fall asleep, and I read every night to go back to sleep. I got an award once for borrowing the most books from my library in a single year.

That said, I don’t keep all the books I’ve read. That’s a bit unhealthy. I donate the physical books. Library books are returned; magazines and newspapers are recycled. The ebooks take up no space at all.

There are, however, a few books that will never go to Goodwill or the recycle bin. I keep them in an antique, birds-eye maple boudoir cabinet, with two doors and a drawer that sticks in warm weather. There are about two dozen books in there, all of which—my family knows—only go when I do. I keep them because like everyone else who is passionate about reading, these are the books that either rocked my world or touched my soul. These are the books I keep:

Mary Stewart’s four-part Arthurian legend. I’ve read The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Wicked Day at least 5 times. But I’ve read The Last Enchantment only once. Like Gordon Lightfoot's song goes, “you won’t read that book again, because the ending’s just too hard to take.” I wonder if he read it, too.

I keep Shardik by Richard Adams, and its the sequel, Maia because his classic world building, plot and characters are second to none. Primitive, sophisticated, action-packed and satisfactorily gory, Adam’s writing is incomparable. I will admit, I got rid of Maia once, but yearned for it so badly, I found and bought another copy. Watership Down is in there, too. I still say (in my head, because most people in my reality have no idea what I’m talking about) “Silflay hraka u embleer rah!”

I keep Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle. In multiple versions. Hardback. Paperback. With pictures from the 1981 movie starring Donald Sutherland as Henry Faber. “I’m just birdwatching,” Henry says, with an innocent smile, before slaughtering four constables on a narrowboat. Follett’s debut villain is coupled with an incredible heroine to create an unforgettable story.

I keep every single book in the Arkady Renko series written by Martin Cruz Smith. I finished Gorky Park in tears, as an adult, with kids, and well past the stage where books could make me weep. I started reading it again after turning the last page. No one puts analogies together like Smith. No one understates the severest of emotions like him. I found (and kept) an article he wrote about Moscow in a National Geographic Magazine. It was every bit as stunning as his novels.

I kept the first ‘Spenser’ novel I ever read, Small Vices, by Robert B. Parker, because his minimalist style is so powerful and unique. I kept my first Lee Child novel, Persuader, because Jack Reacher is so damn compelling and the hook at the end of chapter 1 is still set. Collectively, there are almost ninety books in both series (which I’ve read). But I didn't keep them all. There's that unhealthy thing I'm trying to avoid.

And there's one more. A little known book by a guy who interviewed me several times on the radio. He was a morning broadcaster and I was a newspaper columnist. We were both birders. The book is called Scarecrow on the Marsh, written by Don Weeks from AM Radio 810 WGY. Its a murder mystery. I got a signed copy of his book after he passed away. About 6 months after he retired.

I've been inspired in one way or another by the books I keep. I think I conjure some part of them all when I write my own.

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