Reading My Grandfather’s Bookshelf

My grandfather had this bookshelf mounted to the wall above the pull-out sofa in the guest room. Actually, it was two bookshelves, one atop the other, dark planks of wood on grey metal rails. For as long as he and my grandmother lived in their apartment in Spring Valley, New York, those bookshelves were there. I remember them from back when I was a little kid, before I had learned to read. And once I could read, the books there were something of a mystery to me.

Every now and then, when I’m pressed for something interesting to read, and not wanted to tread down familiar paths, I use a gimmick that has worked for me on a number of occasions. I come up with a reading theme. Once, in 1997, I decided to read all of the books that David G. Hartwell mentioned in his book Age of Wonders. Another time, I decided that I would attempt to read a biography for every President of the United States. I rarely completed these ventures, but they did get me out of my rut. Once out, one book often readily leads to another.

My current reading theme is a tough one. I call it Reading My Grandfather’s Bookshelf. The idea is to actually read the books that were such a mystery to me as a little boy and later as a curious teen. There is the difficulty in remembering the books. The book I do remember on my Grandfather’s bookshelf were impressed on my brain through sheer repetition of visits. I would study the bookshelf at night, whenever I visited. Sometimes, I’d study it during the day when I was bored. I was rarely bored and as I kid, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about spending my days reading as I am today. Still, I remember quite a few of the books on the shelf. Specifically, I remember these:

  • Future Shock by Alvin Toffler
  • Clan of the Cave Bear by Jane Auel
  • Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller
  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  • Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
  • The Sensuous Dirty Old Man by Doctor A.1
  • The Most of Burns2 by George Burns

There are others that are less clear in my mind. If I think hard, every now and then I remember one. If only there was a picture of those bookshelves, but to my knowledge, no such picture exists. That’s okay, because this seems like a good enough start for me. I suspect that when I finish my current book (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving), I’ll start reading my grandfather’s bookshelf with Rabbit, Run by John Updike, and follow that up with Clan of the Cave Bear. If I like either of those books, there are sequels. If not, maybe Eye of the Needle or Future Shock.

It’s refreshing to read fiction outside science fiction, fantasy and horror every now and then3 and these books also have pleasant memories associated with them, despite the fact that I’ve never read them. For decades, when I slept at my grandparents house, I slept with these books keeping watch over me.

  1. By Isaac Asimov. I inherited this book from my grandfather, and still have it.
  2. An omnibus of several of Burns’ books.
  3. I read plenty of nonfiction outside the genre, but no a whole lot of fiction.


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