Friday, January 24, 2014

A Reading Life

In the preface to his book Que Vivan los Tamales: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity (New Mexico, 1998), Jeffrey Pilcher quotes French gastronome Jean Athelm Brillat-Savarin as saying "Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you who you are."

I might tweak it: tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are.  The books on our bookshelves reflect us--our interests, values, views, dreams, desires, commitments--as surely as the food on our plates.  

With this in mind, I present some of the books on my bookshelves today.

There is the stack of new books waiting to be read.  (Note the jar with beach glass and sea-softened bits of pottery and china--all collected over the course of my childhood.)  Love having books in waiting!

 There are books that influenced me growing up--Jane Eyre was one of my high-school "go to" novels.  One Hundred Years of Solitude is my choice for best novel of the 20th century (challenged only, perhaps, by Midnight's Children).  In a Different Voice came to my life as I opened to feminism. One lonely Christmas eve in Quito, 20 years ago, A Christmas Carol lifted my spirits.  Oh, and see that Life's Little Destruction Book?  A gift from Howard early in our relationship. What does it say that he stayed with the woman he gave that to, and not the one who had given him Life's Little Instruction Book?

There are the books that help to shape my spirit and give me strength during this period of middle age.  Life Prayers, in particular, provided a poem Howard and I used in our wedding, and also a poem I read with my father's eulogy (today would have been Dad's 94th b-day).

I am mostly a prose gal, but I've fallen in love with some of the children's poetry that I've read with my kids.  My absolute favorite is Moon, Have You Met My Mother?

In the kitchen: well-used cookbooks and collections of recipes. You'd think I was a vegetarian to read most of these.  I'm not, though I only eat meat or fish a couple of times a week.

These are the books in play (along with other readings) in classes this semester:

My office is full of books that have influenced me intellectually, like these on Peruvian history (indigenous and/or gender):

 Or these more general books on Latin American gender history:

 And some works on gender in Mexico (Peasant and Nation changed many an academic life):

Some of the most influential gender books outside of Latin America--most especially Joan Scott's Gender and the Politics of History, but also work by my beloved mentor, Mrinalini Sinha (Specters of Mother India):

And then there is work to be done, such as reading and analyzing books on indigenismo in Ecuador:

And perusing through these early twentieth-century scholarly journals that were one of my very best used-bookstore finds in Quito:

And these primary source books by Ecuadorian women:

Finally, of course, there is that Che Guevara essay I have to revise:

This does not capture it all, of course.  Nothing from my 4 cases full of books at my campus office.  None of the many knitting patterns that are waiting for me to organize them into notebooks.  Nor the library and other books scattered about on tables here and there. But it gives a glimpse of a life built around reading and learning, I suppose.  A house full of books--for learning, for analysis, for creativity, for pleasure...for the pure joy of reading.

What's on your book shelves?

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