Shelf Life for July 2019

Books read

Borderland Phenomena, Vol. 1: Spontaneous Combustion, Poltergeistry, and Anomalous Lights by Louis Proud

Books Bought/Found/Given

Dr. Kildare: Assigned to Trouble by Robert Ackworth
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzan and the Lost Safari by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Clue in the Embers by Franklin W. Dixon
The Hooded Hawk Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon
The Mystery of Cabin Island by Franklin W. Dixon
The Mystery of the Spiral Bridge by Franklin W. Dixon
The Secret of Wildcat Swamp by Franklin W. Dixon
The Eighth Tower by John Keel
FKA USA by Reed King
Supergods by Grant Morrison
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

It’s been an odd summer in lots of ways. I won’t get into it all here (and won’t bother mentioning most of it at all), but it’s hard to write about my life with books these past couple of months without bringing it up.

Before that, though, welcome to Shelf Life, my (usually) monthly look back at the books I read, bought, received, etc … during the previous month. This used to be called With Apologies to Hornby, but I got tired of explaining the name. So I changed it.

There was no Shelf Life (it probably would have stil been called With Apologies to Hornby at the time) for June. I didn’t read any books, nor did I get my hands on any new ones. The school year was winding down, and my Grandpa was nearing the end of his life. Most of my month was spent hanging out with him and helping care for him.

July brought the fall-out of Grandpa’s passing away, which is how I ended up with most of the books I got last month. It’s also part of the reason why I only read one book during a time of year when I usually plow through four or five.

Anyway, explanations out of the way, let’s take a look at last month’s books.

The only book I read was Louis Proud’s Borderland Phenomena, Vol. 1: Spontaneous Combustion, Poltergeistry, and Anomalous Lights. I’d heard an interview with Proud, and I figured his book would be good for some background research for my next novel. Borderland Phenomena was an interesting read, but it doesn’t seem to be the sort of work I’ll be pulling off the shelf again and again for reference. Bit of a bummer, but whatever.

On to the books I added to my shelves …

When I was a kid – like from around 4 to 11 or 12 – my favorite spot at my grandparents’ house in Waterville, VT., was in front of the three-shelf bookcase in their living room. It was behind a couple of chairs and a coffee table, with graduation photos of Dad and his three brothers on the top shelf. The bottom shelves were filled with old issues of Reader’s Digest magazine from the early 1970s, a few Reader’s Digest condensed editions that had five or six different novels packed into one book, and a whole bunch of books Dad and my uncles had when they were younger.

I’d sit on the floor and flip through the old books, smelling them and reading random pages. My favorites were the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, as well as two Tarzan novels. I’d also inevitably pull out an adaptation of an old TV show to thumb through. Those books were especially weird to me, based on programs that seemed equally weird. One adapted The Real McCoys and another was based on Dr. Kildare. The Dr. Kildare one was especially ponderous. What was the point of turning what was obviously a boring show into what was obviously a boring book?

Regardless, I loved those books.

Fast forward a few decades to late June. Grandma passed away three-and-a-half years ago. Grandpa’s been living with my folks, but the old house is still in tact, most of their belongings right where they’ve always been. Then Grandpa passes away – peaceful and painless, which I’ll be eternally grateful for. And suddenly it’s time to go back to the old house and sort through what’s been left behind. 

It’s an experience that’s equal parts nostalgic and painful. But there’s also a lot of joy mixed in. Joy that comes from remembering an incredible couple I was fortunate enough to call Grandma and Grandpa. The time spent in July with my family, looking through belongings and learning about them, it’s time I’ll treasure for the rest of my days.

One thing I learned was that the bookcase those old novels and magazines rested on was made by Dad back in his wood shop class in high school. All that time spent with those books, and I had no idea. The book shelf is in my parents’ living room now, all sorts of photos and other things filling the space. I love seeing it there.

As for the books, I was fortunate enough to receive those Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew novels, as well as the two Tarzans, and even boring ol’ Dr. Kildare

The smell of Grandma and Grandpa’s house – the scent that was there each Christmas Eve, during summer breakfasts when I got to eat with them after morning chores were done, getting back to their house from Friday grocery shopping with Ma and Grandma – it’s on and in those books. Imprinted as sharply as the words that fill each page. 

I don’t know if book huffing is considered substance abuse, but I might be a decent subject for a case study.

I bought a few other books in July, as well. Chief among them is Grant Morrison’s Supergods. How I’ve gone this long without reading what is by most accounts an incredible examination of the superhero archetype – by my favorite comic book writer, nonetheless – I have no idea. But now I can remedy that.

What books are in your life right now? I’d love to hear about them. Feel free to comment below.

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