After Death Details, Part III: Mother’s Library

In her assisted living apartment mother lived with her well-loved library of books. Though she parted with many possessions and books when she moved from her larger South Carolina condo into a smaller assisted living space, her most prized volumes traveled with her to Northern Virginia. We chose more than a few to keep since she died, but there are so many others.

And what a library it was. A large dictionary and several small ones, as well as synonym and biography reference books occupied shelves that were easily accessible for quick consults. A recent version of The Reader’s Encyclopedia with bookmarks featured half-a-dozen recent literary look-ups was on another top shelf. More than two dozen art books and catalogs from the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum the Art Institute of Chicago, and other museums occupied lower shelves, the coffee table, and her desk. Her bookcases featured, among many, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Austin, and Welty, as well as countless collections of short stories and poetry. More recent authors ranged from Salmon Rushdie to Ann Tyler to Margaret Atwood to Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. In fact, most of the prize-winning fiction — Nobel, Pulitzer, Booker, Pen/Faulkner, etc. were in her library

Mother avidly participated in a number of book clubs, sometimes two at a time, and we spotted many volumes from those conversations. It was easy to figure out the discussions she led given the markings in several of the books.

Her library also included volumes of literary criticism and all the style guides to writing–Strunk and White, Zinsser, and Turabian to name a few.

What to do with a library like this?

We found the perfect place. The Bryn Mawr College Alumnae Association in the Washington, DC area maintains a book shop, The Lantern, in Georgetown. Proceeds go to scholarship funds at the college. We called and they were accepting donations, so we delivered Mother’s literary treasures to this shop, knowing that the books would find a safe place and eventually new owners.

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