Tuesday, February 2, 2021

My Mom's Bookshelf


Here's a different kind of post. For some reason I was thinking the other day about a certain book my mom had when I was a kid. I was wondering if I could find a picture of the book's cover online, which I did. (You'll see it down below.) And that got me thinking about all the books she had, weighing down the shelves in our study.

My mom isn't a particularly meticulous person. She read and accumulated books from here and there, and once she put them on her shelf they tended to remain. A lot of her books were yellowed and barely hanging together by the time I began exploring her shelves, and even older by the time we finally got rid of them. But here are a few that are most memorable to me, with the exact covers we used to have. (I took the pictures from the Internet, so the quality is variable.)

This pictorial guide to the national parks (above), produced by National Geographic, occupied a shelf in our living room. I loved looking through the pictures, though I never read the text -- pretty much the way I treated National Geographic magazine itself, in fact. The pictures fueled my dreams of travel.


Remember "Fear of Flying"? With its focus on female sexual freedom, it was quite scandalous in its day. I used to sneak peeks to read the sexy parts. All I remember is the main character talking about a certain sexual act being "zipless," and even though I knew the word for the act itself, I didn't understand the "zipless" part at all. (Even to this day, but thankfully Wikipedia explains it.) A few other descriptions linger in my memory, but none that I'm willing to reveal on a family blog.


"The Ugly American" was a best-seller in the late '50s, a novel about American diplomacy in Southeast Asia, and how we should focus on building communities and improving resources. Supposedly it inspired the formation of the Peace Corps. I never read it. I always thought it was about an ugly guy, but of course the "ugly" is also metaphorical.


Mom is a Michener fan, and I think she read almost all his books. She recommended "The Covenant" to me in high school. I read the first couple hundred pages, but Michener books are huge, and I gave up after a while. It wasn't bad, though. It was about South Africa.


I remember Mom reading "Christy" -- I think her church women's group read it, actually. Apparently it's popular among religious people. It's about a single woman teaching poor children in Appalachia in 1912. Never read it myself.


"A Woman of Substance" looks like a lusty bodice-ripper, but I'm not sure this cover does it justice. It's really about a woman who runs a department store empire. I remember Mom not only reading it but recommending it to my grandmother, who also read it. (That's how I know it isn't lusty, at least not primarily.)


Mom recommended "Joshua Son of None" to me, and I read it in high school and loved it. It's about cloning and John F. Kennedy.


I have no idea why my mother even owned this book. "The Organization Man" was an influential business-management best-seller in the 1950s. It apparently refutes the idea of managing for the common good and focuses instead on a more individualistic perspective -- appropriate for the wildly anti-communist 1950s. I never read it and certainly don't intend to now.


I did read "Summer Lightning" by Judith Richards -- not to be confused with the P.G. Wodehouse book of the same name -- and loved it. It's about a boy growing up in rural southern Florida, so it appealed to me. My brother still has my mom's copy. We all enjoyed it.


"Decision at Delphi" is the book that started this whole post. I didn't read it and I think it's just a mass-market thriller, but for some ridiculous reason I remember that dramatic cover.


Finally, I vividly remember "True Grit," which Mom also encouraged me to read and which I liked a lot.

I could go on with other examples -- "Catch-22," "The Good Soldier Schweik," "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," Antonia Fraser's "Mary, Queen of Scots," Nabokov's "King, Queen, Knave," Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" and "Absalom, Absalom" -- but this post is already long enough. I always appreciate the fact that Mom shared some of her books with me, and set a good example for recreational reading by doing so herself -- in addition to taking us to the library and keeping us reading in other ways.

40 comments:

Moving with Mitchell said...

This was fun! My mother’s book shelves were filled with a very different variety. As for pleasure reading, in later years I regularly went through her books and brought those old and yellowed paperbacks to the charity shop. Of all the books you displayed here, the only one I remember from my mother's collection is The Covenant. That sat there for probably 30 years.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

You have a hell of a memory Steve - remembering all those books and which covers they had etc.. It's obvious that your mother modelled the pleasure of reading to you from an early age and so it's not surprising that it got under your skin too. You can blame her for the fact that you ended up as a school librarian! Just be thankful that she wasn't a dancer in a night club!

Debby said...

When my kids were young, at bedtime, I sometimes allowed them to read for a half hour in bed. They got to the point where they would wheedle for this extra half hour in bed. Night after night the would beg, and night after night I would give in. very reluctantly. They would scamper through their night time routine and jump into bed with their books. The battle was intentional. They wanted to win. I wanted them to read. Everyone got their way, and they are all readers.

Mary said...

Good post. Being somewhere between your age and your mom's (likely closer to hers), I read several of those books back in the day...even most of Michener's. Not surprised you gave up on The Covenant. Michener never met an adjective he didn't like...or use...repeatedly.

Ms. Moon said...

Oh gosh. I was an adult when I read Jong's Fear of Flying. A very young adult. It was definitely a book of its time. And I do believe I read The Covenant. I read Christy too. My mother had Updike's Couples on her shelf and I read that. Steamy! Michener's books always started with the molecule, as a friend of mine said. I seriously doubt he did all his own research.
What a fun post! You've brought back memories. Thank you.

Bob said...

Both my parents were avid readers. That's where I got my love of books.

Sharon said...

What an interesting collection of books. I remember reading Fear of flying and I read almost every James Michener book. I almost dropped Hawaii but once I got past the first 5 chapters, it was okay. My favorite was The Source. I loved the way it layered the history of a place. I also read the Ugly American and I've witnessed a few ugly Americans on my travels.

robin andrea said...

What an interesting look back at the popular novels from long ago. My parents had many of those books in the bookcase, plus lots of mystery novels. Now I'm reminded of the two shelves devoted to encyclopedias and a big fat dictionary.

Red said...

The only one of these I've read is the ugly American. It was very popular at the time.

Sue said...

I remember loving Christy as a young adult and can't tell you how many times I've thought of it over the years Some of the images of Appalachia she wrote about have really stuck in my mind. I believe it was also a short-lived TV series.

Ellen D. said...

My Mom loved Woman of Substance and recommended it to me. My Mom and I were both big readers - I still am. Only 1 of my 5 kids turned into a big reader - legos, GI Joes, drawing, TV, video games were more their thing!
I had to check your link for what the zipless phrase was all about - I had no idea! *blushing*

terry said...

Your Mom and I shared many of the same books. I loved that Erica Jong book and read it as a very young woman. The concept of the "zipless" remains a goal! I also read all of the Michener books. Thanks for the memories!

Margaret said...

An eclectic collection, and I've read some of them. My mom reads magazines and not books. My dad is the book lover.

The Bug said...

I've read Christy (of course) and A Woman of Substance (I just looked & it's a SERIES - there are 7 of them!). I think I read at least one Michener back in the day, but my mom's favorite writer was Mary Higgins Clark so I read a LOT of her books. She also liked James Patterson - ha!

Allison said...

I liked "A Woman of Substance". It was nice to read about a woman doing something, rather than waiting for things.
To answer your question, the two agaves in my last post are the same plant, taken from different angles, about a month apart. The spike is growing rapidly. Thanks for the side by side link, I shall go study it.

Unknown said...

I didn't know about zipless either.

Lindsey Schubert said...

I love the cover of The Ugly American! The golden stupa and umbrellas/parasols the people are carrying are definitely Myanmar, but the style of dress is Vietnamese. Might have to try to find that one to read.

The Padre said...

What A Trip - Haven't Thought About A Number Of These Books For Years - True Grit Always Amazed Me And Then Found Out The Original With Johnny Boy Was Filmed Right Down The Road From Me - Would Love To Thumb Through The National Parks For Sure - As I Lay Dying, Like WoW - With All These Memorable Books Around, Hide Olga Girl An Extra Treat Under Her Pink Blanket - Also, Thanx For The Positive Vibes

Cheers

Alphie Soup said...

Some but not all of the titles are familiar to me. I've read a couple of Michener's books. The first cover - America's Wonderland - reminded me that an American publication about national parks prompted me to visit the Arcadia National Park in Maine and Big Bend in Texas. Both were wonderful experiences.
Alphie




Alphie

Steve Reed said...

My mom was quite insistent on keeping her books, though I do remember helping her clean off the shelves at least twice. (Probably when we painted the room.) We gave away bags of stuff.

Steve Reed said...

I don't know why I remember book covers so well, but they've always made a big impression on me. Sometimes much bigger than the books themselves!

Steve Reed said...

Very subversive, to make them "win" their reading time! :)

I was one of those kids who'd read in bed for hours. I remember staying up into the wee hours some mornings, finishing a novel. (Often Stephen King!)

Steve Reed said...

I'm surprised Michener was so popular. You'd think those long books would be a marketing nightmare!

Steve Reed said...

I don't think I ever read "Couples," though I did read other Updike. Christy is the one book on this list I'm thinking I should revisit. And maybe "Fear of Flying," just for curiosity's sake!

Steve Reed said...

One of the biggest determiners of whether a child will be a reader is whether the parents read themselves.

Steve Reed said...

You know, I think I tried Hawaii too. I never tried "The Source," but my dad always said that was Michener's best.

Steve Reed said...

My mom got into mysteries later in life. She read a lot of Nevada Barr.

Steve Reed said...

And prescient, considering we went on to wage war in that part of the world. The ugly American got even uglier!

Steve Reed said...

Oh yeah, I kind of remember it on TV. Was it a mini-series, maybe? All the comments here have made me think I should read it.

Steve Reed said...

I think the popularity of video games has sadly cut quite a bit into kids' reading time.

Steve Reed said...

Writing about "Fear of Flying" has made me want to read it again, as an adult. I'm sure it would make much more sense to me now. (And I'd have more patience with the non-sexy parts!)

Steve Reed said...

We had several magazines lying around too -- always Time and National Geographic.

Steve Reed said...

OMG, I can't believe there are seven of those Barbara Taylor Bradford books. She was a word machine! (Like Michener!)

Steve Reed said...

I'm sure that's why my mom liked it. Mom has feminist tendencies, in her ultimately conformist way! Thanks for the clarification on the agave.

Steve Reed said...

My question is, why is it zipless? Even if it's unburdened from meaning or obligation, isn't there still a zipper involved?

Steve Reed said...

I bet it's hideously dated now, and probably not even in print, but it might be fun to try. I think the only one of these we have in the Mellon is "True Grit." We used to have "Christy" but I think we weeded it.

Steve Reed said...

Wasn't Glenn Campbell also in "True Grit"? I haven't seen that movie in AGES. Glad you enjoyed the look back!

Steve Reed said...

I've never been to either of those parks! One of these days!

ellen abbott said...

when I was growing up the family room had a high ledge bookshelf that ran along the two long walls. When I was about 13 or 14 I noticed Lolita and snuck it down to read it. about halfway through, my mother discovered I was reading it and took it away as being inappropriate for my age. she put it back on the shelf. I waited a couple of weeks and got it back down and finished it undiscovered.

37paddington said...

Such an interesting post! This makes me want to do a post about books that impacted me in my teenage years, and twenties, which I am sure will all seem so very dated by now. Remember The Women's Room? The World According to Garp? I read some of these books your mom read, lots of Michener, Barbara Taylor Bradford's book I enjoyed. There was also a book called Five Smooth Stones that I reread every year. I finally found a copy and bought it, just to own it, but I couldn't make myself read it now. It didn't age that well. Anyway, great post! Another angle of your anthropological lens.