Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Books We Grab In The Fire

Last weekend I attended the Montgomery County Teen Book Festival, speed-walking in about ten minutes after the general session started, about as punctual as usual. As I arrived, the young adult authors on the panel were answering a question what one book they'd grab on the way out the door if their house were on fire. (This is assuming family members and pets are safe). Quite a variety of answers:

Lois Lowry talked about her copy of The Shining, a first edition autographed by Stephen King. Um, yes, I'd grab that too. Use it as a downpayment on a new house. 

I think Thomas Sniegoski's answer was most like mine--he's pretty sure he'd burn up with all the books, because they're all over his house and it would be impossible to save just one. Plus, his house is highly flammable. 

Anna Godbersen and Jeff Stone both picked classic novels. Anna's choice was Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, and Jeff would take Moby Dick, which he reads at least once a year. I get that we have our favorite classics, but unless it's signed by Herman Melville (or even Stephen King) or it stopped a bullet for me, I'm not grabbing Moby Dick in a fire. There must be a used bookstore on the corner that has a copy. 

Justina Chen said she'd likely be standing there throwing things into the fire, like all of her journals to make sure no one would get a hold of them if she perished in the flames. I'm sure a lot of us would be doing the same thing, and throwing in a few first drafts of novels too. But assuming she had time then to escape, she'd grab the book her kids made for her. Good choice! Irreplaceable, and something that can make you happy when you're crying about your house burning to the ground.

I started wondering what book I'd snag from the burning bookshelf. I do have a shelf of signed books (not The Shining, but still), so I'd probably scoop them all up as I stop, drop, and roll out the door, although I suppose that's cheating to pick several. But I do have a book of my grandmother's poetry. She was a writer almost all of her life, and at age 99 she could still recite a poem she wrote 50 years ago. My aunt put a lot of Grandma's poetry together in a book (actually it's a two-volume set now), along with pictures of her throughout her life. So that would have to be the book I'd grab--not nearly as replaceable as everything else. If we're talking about a published book on the shelf, I'd have a harder time narrowing it down to one.

So what book would you take with you when escaping a fire? Not photo albums--those are safe in the front yard with the family. This is a different question than those like, "If you could have one book with you on a desert island...," because it's more about sentimental value, or even monetary value, rather than the book you enjoy reading over and over again.

Would yours be one signed by a favorite author, a classic novel you've reread many times, or something of sentimental value? Maybe you've written in the margins of it, or you remember it as the first book you really loved, or it's one that someone you loved gave you. 

I know, we'd all grab tote bags and empty the bookshelves into them, but no cheating--you have to pick just one!


  1. I would grab my decades old copy of Fox In Socks -- I think it was that book that made me love language, even before I could read.

    Later, when I was an ESL teacher for Japanese students, I copied "Luke Luck Licks Lakes." Since Japanese doesn't have the "L" sound, it was one of the most challenging things to teach, and one of my students' biggest frustrations -- but Seuss's nonsense verses and funny pictures kept everyone laughing.

  2. If I could only grab one, it'd be one of the out-of-print books that shaped my love of reading and inspired my love of writing (mostly MG books that I read as a kid that have since become less popular, though they are still quite awesome). I'm thinking "Just Like Always", about two very different girls sharing a hospital room, which I remember finding in a used bookstore when I was about nine or so, and which I re-read often.

    But really. Losing all your books but one in a fire? That's such a horrible, horrible thought.

  3. I know, it's hard to choose, isn't it? But your answers reminded me, other choices for me would be the first books my daughter read, especially the copy of The Gingerbread Man she grabbed from a library bookshelf when she was two and exclaimed, "MY size!"

  4. Okay, my family would be texting me frantically from the front yard to "leave the books, mom, or who will do our laundry?"

    Inside, I cover my face with a damp towel and grab the inscribed books that my grandparents (now passed away) gave me that say wonderful things like "we are looking forward to your first novel" (written in The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough in 1988 (high school graduation).)These are so precious to me.

    I'd also grab my childhood copies of Little House on the Prairie, All of a Kind Family and The Secret Garden (all dogeared, well-loved favorites).

    Great post Lynne!

  5. I have a book of Mother Goose dated 1898, so I'd take it, but cry over Fair Weather by Richard Peck perishing in pandemonium!