by Chris Lowenstein

#107, 12 November 2007

The Literary Life

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Some people want to be millionaires. Some want to be professional athletes. Some want to be famous. I always wanted to live a literary life. From the time I learned to read, I wanted to be a writer, a book reviewer, an editor, a critic, or an English teacher - anything to do with books. Strangely, the idea of being a book collector or an antiquarian bookseller never occurred to me, perhaps because I never knew any book collectors personally and just speaking the word "antiquarian" conveyed the dusty layers and cobwebs of the past rather than the future, toward which I was always working.

I worked at a Waldenbooks during my high school years, then for the University Librarian at my college. Though you would think it might have happened at a university library, I had no exposure to antiquarian books during this time. I was instead confined to a windowless basement office, where I sorted and alphabetized Library of Congress cards for a large cataloguing project. Despite working for a large chain that sold only bestsellers and sorting catalogue cards in a dungeon, I still loved books. During my summer breaks from college, I spent four years working for a local publisher, learning about how books are published and marketed. I worked for a textbook publisher immediately after college, learning how much I did not actually want to be a book editor. I went back to school and earned a teaching credential in English, teaching high school students for six years, and enjoying every minute of it (really).

My literary life came to an abrupt dénouement when my husband and I had two children in two years. The reality of parenthood was that there was little time for grading homework, attending faculty meetings, and being available to students in the ways that all good teachers need to be available. I didn't even have time to read a newspaper. I decided to slow my pace and quit teaching, at least until my youngest child entered first grade. I missed teaching, but am glad I got to participate in every moment of my children's formative years, even the difficult ones.

Not only did I miss teaching, I also missed my books. I had no extended periods of free time for reading for about three years. Free time that I did have was filled with trips to the grocery store and other small errands. When I got the chance to read in the evenings, after everyone else was asleep, I was so exhausted, I'd fall asleep about three pages into any book I started. I loved being a mother, but I did lament the loss of that bit of daily time just to read a few pages on subjects totally unrelated to raising children.

Fast forward a couple of years. Both kids were (finally) sleeping through the night, a little more independent in their play, and I actually read a few books from time to time. It just so happens that the author Nicholas Basbanes* visited the Bay Area during this time to talk about one of his many wonderful books about books. My mother, knowing my love of books, clipped the article about his discussion from the local paper and gave it to me. I wasn't able to attend the lecture but thought I'd try to pick up a copy of one of the books mentioned in the article, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books. It sounded like a book I'd like - a book about books.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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