Bookshelves at war: enter the combat zone

My husband is in a PhD program in history, and right now he has the summer “off”.  Being “off” in PhD-speak apparently means “doing a number of research trips to various and sundry archives”—just thought I’d clarify that. This week, he has gallivanted off to St Paul and Ann Arbor to do research for his massive paper, leaving me forlorn and forsaken to watch as many chick flicks as possible and try to resist the pull of a certain Chinese take-out place which I will tell you all about when the time is ripe. Believe me—you’re not ready to hear that story today. You may never be.

My husband and I met our first week of college during Freshman Orientation week. He majored in English and Philosophy, I majored in English and French. The whole “English” thing was a point of great bonding: we were both avid readers [insert: dorky/nerdy/geeky]. To this day, one of our ideas of a fun-filled and relaxing time is to curl up on the couch together with some good books. I even talked him into reading me to sleep most nights–we’re currently working through “The Horse and His Boy”, #5 in the Chronicles of Narnia.

As much as it seemed that we were of one mind on the subject of books, as the years have progressed and he has gone deeper and deeper into academics, our reading interests have violently split. As for me, I like fiction. It takes me to a rosy fantasy place where I can float off on downy clouds of imagination. . . unless I’m reading “The Jungle”, in which case it takes me to a horrifying meat-packing plant where peoples’ feet fall off , immigrants’ hopes are dashed, and everyone wants to kill themselves. But the point I’m trying to make is this: besides our night-time readings (which I have been selecting), I can’t remember the last work of fiction that my husband read. He seems to gravitate towards books with titles like “The Landscape of America: Workers versus Conglomerates and How They Shaped the Modernization of the Midwest”, or “The Industrious Wife: the Socio-Political Role of the Gendered Domestic Space in American Foreign Relations from December 1958 to March 1959”. Not just that, but he grabs these off the shelf for his pleasure reading!

If we had really dug deep in our pre-marital counseling sessions, we would have found that these reading habits actually started at a young age:

A young Jenna calmly reading her fiction

A small boy jealously guards a bookshelf chock-full of non-fiction. He is willing to use violence if necessary.

 Unfortunately, our pastor focused on questions about our conflict resolution style, family backgrounds, and our financial plan. Little did we all know, the point of divergence would turn out to be my unparalleled love of “Anne of Green Gables” vs. his matchless devotion to all things factual. If only we had worked through this early on! Beware young couples: try to discuss your feelings on “Anne of Green Gables” during your first premarital counseling session.

I like to describe our bookshelves as a war zone between fiction and non-fiction. It doesn’t help that my husband has divided them into two clear, separately alphabetized camps (really). You can tell that the fiction part is my territory because of all the girly colors on the spines–his side has the huge row of Kierkegaard’s collected works. Sometimes in the night there are thunderous explosions and flashes of light, and we know our books are at it again. C’mon guys, we’re trying to sleep! I reason with them. But they are natural-born enemies, and I frequently have to hightail it outta there so as not to get caught in the crossfire. After all, who wants a bullet in the buns at 2am?

Plus, the non-fiction camp has the Emperor from Star Wars on its side: he’s a tiny plastic figurine by day, but who knows what by night. And frankly, he’s a messed up guy and I wouldn’t put anything past him.

There is so much good fiction that I think my husband would enjoy—but it’s like “fiction” has become a bad word. What hope is there for his future? Will he ever settle in with a good novel again? Can our marriage survive such disparate views on “a good literary time”?

And then I picture him curled up on the couch reading things that I enjoy—like the Little House books. Or the Christy Miller books.

Enjoying some Christy Miller circa 2004

And then I quickly realize–wait, I don’t want him to read the Christy Miller books! In fact, the more I think about it, non-fiction is kind of . . . mmmm, manly. I guess you could say that my husband is working out his mental muscles—and that’s kind of hot. I’ve tried to read some of the books he enjoys, and my brain is sweating and panting by the 2nd paragraph. Whereas my reading experience is akin to sinking into a down comforter of decadent softness, his reading is like lifting barbells of facts. Really heavy barbells with dates and political concepts and timelines and … lots of frigging history.

A young boy already showing the signs of enjoying "lots of frigging history". The pipe says it all.

So this is a shout out to my husband: I respect your choice of non-fiction over fiction: it’s hot. Come home soon. End of story.

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9 Responses to Bookshelves at war: enter the combat zone

  1. Erica says:

    mmmmmmmm…… LOVE! You have such a way of weaving things together…. little genius. You always have. And I still envy your writing skills, just as I have ever since we were wee tots and you were working on your “book”. What was it called?? And I hope you plan on doing a blog post about your early childhood writings. You little freak of literary nature. I love you.

    • Jenna says:

      Hah! I’m actually working on a post now about my early writings … it includes the paragraph:
      “My sisters always yell at me for no reason. They always blame me for bad things that they did. So then I get in trouble. It’s just terrible to have sisters like them. It’s just terrible! Just to have any sister is just terrible, simply terrible. They get into everything. But . . . sometimes nice!!!!!!!!”
      . . . though I won’t give any more away yet. =)

  2. vj says:

    awwww, you are tooo cute! my favorite part of this post? the ending :) hehehe

  3. Jen says:

    Love it!! I have to admit that I was greatly admiring the fiction section of your shelves. I can’t help it! I gravitate toward books with titles such as “Anne of the Island,” “Little House in the Big Wood,” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.” I love your perspective on the mental work out!

    So much fun to read this!

  4. Vicki DeArmeyv says:

    You are so funny Jenna. I love your light heartedness, yet slipping in snippets of truth and wisdom… keep up the good work! Looking forward to more of your stories.

  5. Luke Berg says:

    :-). Laughing a lot after this one.

  6. Laura Livingston says:

    OK – OK – OK! So, yes, your writing is really, really, entertaining and lovely, but paired with my ADORABLE nephew playing with Grandpa Laird’s pipe? It’s too much, Jenna! I’m dissolving into a pile of sentimental-I-love-you-so-much-it-hurts mush!

  7. Alex says:

    I’ve been trying to put some decent fiction in his hands for years as well, but he’s always telling me about some book he “has to” read for some thing he calls “class”. Never quite understood it. I finally caved in and just read non-fiction now as well.

  8. Nexus says:

    “Sometimes in the night there are thunderous explosions and flashes of light, and we know our books are at it again. ”


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