Older persons and books

October 1, 2007

C’est la Journée Internationale des Personnes Agées, so I discovered when I visited an old lady at the Manoir Héritage retirement residence in Vanier this morning and a notice to that effect was slipped under her door. We talked to one another in French while the sun shone on the golden trees we could see through the window and while Claude poured tea into a pair of pretty teacups that were among her few remaining possessions.

Claude, a widow in her 80s, has only been living at the Manoir for a few months and is still missing her home of fifty-nine years, a bungalow a couple of kilometres away, where she and her husband had an extension built to house their library. “Otherwise we’d have had to sleep in the garden,” she explained. “We had so many books.”

I can imagine*. It’s lucky that our own house has that basement with long walls against which we can put plenty of bookshelves, but what to do when Chris and I, one day in the distant (I hope) future have to move to somewhere like the Manoir Héritage? It’s a sobering thought. I was trying to tidy up our bookshelves last night but not getting far with the job as it’s too tempting to open the various books as I move them around. I try to keep the novels in alphabetical order of authors and (as I’ve said before in this blog) it always gives me a kick to see who comes next to whom. Kipling, Koestler, Kundera … S. Maugham next to Melville … Tinniswood, Tolkien, Tolstoy. Tom Sharp next to Carol Shields. Jeanette Winterson next to PG Wodehouse.

I asked Claude how she had managed to select the few books she had rooms to keep and it was interesting to hear that the most precious were her Larousse, her art books en masse and the travel guides to places she and her husband had visited. I noticed a copy of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (in English) but was sitting too far away from her bookshelves to make out any more titles.

I wonder which books you people would choose to retire with? Any comments?

* The slogan for the Ottawa International Writers Festival this year:

Your imagination is a renewable resource.

I hope my imagination’s still alive and kicking in my old age.

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