Back in college, I kept a list of my top ten favorite books. I haven’t updated it since then. In fact, I haven’t even thought of it until cleaning the house over Christmas break. Each book on the list greatly affected and changed my life. To signify their status, I tried to find each book in hardcover when I had extra money. I was not completely successful. Six of the ten sit on my shelves at home. They’ve followed me from the middle of Missouri to the middle of Illinois to the ‘burbs of Detroit and, now, back to Missouri. Strangely, I haven’t reread any of those books since college. Over a decade of lugging those hardbacks around without cracking them open seems a waste. Maybe in the grand scheme of things, it is. But I will carry them wherever I head to next. Seeing them on the shelf gives me a little twinge of happiness.
In fact, seeing any shelf of books makes me happy and curious. If invited to someone’s house, I’m more interested in what’s on their bookshelves than what type of TV they have or what food they’re serving. I’m drawn to the book spines even if the books are purely decorative. Did you know that there’s a Winston Churchill – not the one you’re thinking of – that’s an author? I didn’t until I read the decorative spines. In garage sales, I’ll go look at the books that are interesting. I always hope to find that rare first edition that will someday be worth more than the $0.50 that I paid the previous owner. But in truth, I know nothing of book collecting as an investment. I collect books that speak to me, which is pretty much every book. But the prize of my collection is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.
This surprises people because I mostly read science fiction and fantasy. With Lonesome Dove being a Western, it seems out of place. But this is book that transcends the imaginary genre lines to become classic. I often tell people that it was the first book that I wished never ended. And that is only half of the reason that I love it. But first this novel does not have characters, it has people. I believed that they existed before and after the novel. It felt more like I was looking at a moment in someone’s life as opposed to characters created to tell a story. Captain Woodrow Call and Captain Augustus McCrae engaged with me in the most unexpected way. I read this book in High School, but these were men that I’d like to hang out with. I wanted to sit on the porch with them and listen to their stories. I would have helped them with their dutch oven and the biscuits they ate for breakfast. (Biscuits and gravy tie with lasagna for my favorite food. Did the novel win because of the biscuits and gravy connection? Or do I like biscuits and gravy more because they have a tie into my favorite novel?) If Lonesome Dove had never ended, I’d have been okay with that.
That is the public reason that I love this story, but the personal one contributes as much joy as the book itself. When I first read it, the book was borrowed from my Aunt Cyndy. It was sitting in her library, and as I said earlier, I will shamelessly look through anyone’s library. It seemed out of place as Western’s aren’t my aunt’s go to choices for novels. Naturally, I followed my curiosity and picked up the book. Inside was an inscription from her brother, my Uncle Nick. If I had to choose books for him, the last I would give him would be a western. So that note inside this book ramped up my curiosity to the point that I had to read the book. I had to know what was so special about the book that not only did Nick recommend it to my aunt but also inscribed it for her. I came to think of it as a family book, one that gets passed around. When I see this book on my or any shelf, I think of my family. On my dad’s side, reading is a generational commonality. My grandparents are voracious readers with weekly visits to the library and books scattered around their home. Aunt Cyndy and Uncle Nick always ask me what I’m reading if I don’t ask them first. Sharing books with my father was one of the best parts of our relationship. Growing up, I was surrounded by family on a weekly basis. It wasn’t just holidays or special occasions. It was a community, and with that book on my shelf in my house, no matter how far from family I am, I have that community with me.