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Expressway: A room crowded with authors

A portion of Nina Wolff's book collection at

A portion of Nina Wolff's book collection at her home in Islip.

Reader Nina Wolff lives in Islip.

I haven't been buying as many books since I discovered the easily transportable, electronic reader, and after retiring as English/language arts director for Bay Shore Schools, I began giving instead of lending books to friends. Recently, with the impending arrival of a house painter, I thought it an opportune time to create a more pristine, Architectural Digest look in the den, with its wall of sagging bookshelves. Selecting just a few titles for each shelf would enable me to showcase special photographs and works of art my husband and I have collected during our travels.

Piling hundreds of books on the floor, I facilitated an informal festival of poets, memoirists, novelists and historians. Literary prize winners, classics, and travel tomes made the first cut. Now there was breathing room for the Murano glass vase from Italy, the Acoma pottery from New Mexico, the hand-woven baskets from Charleston and the figurines from Provence.

"Voila!" I announced, as my husband entered the room, a shocked look on his face.

"Wait a minute, this is not who you are!" Norm said. "You are the one that our friends always come to when they need a book recommendation. Your spirit has left this room."

I looked at the nearly naked shelves and gasped. For me, the Kindle, my book of choice for airplane travel and doctors' waiting rooms, will never replace the warmth I feel when leafing through paper pages. Books have always been my BFF. I get lost in the stacks of the public library, and I feel rage when I hear anyone suggest that Long Island libraries are unnecessary in the Internet age. Bookstores are another magnet; don't go with me, unless you have nothing else scheduled for the day.

Thanking my husband for the reality check, I rushed to retrieve the autographed books and placed them on a special shelf. The travel guides were organized by country, the historical fiction by decade, the children's literature in a place that our growing grandkids could reach. Now I'd always be surrounded by my muses. I can turn to Emily Dickinson if I need a pep talk on hope, to Philip Roth for beautifully crafted sentences, to Sholem Aleichem for memories of my Yiddish-speaking grandma, to Hemingway for brevity, to Jane Austen for wit.

What have I forgotten? Ah, the books I figuratively ate with a knife and fork, underlining each savory phrase: "The Great Gatsby," "The Bluest Eye," "In the Time of the Butterflies," "The Prince of Tides," and more.


Don't cringe that I write in my books. Friends should be able to talk freely, right? In fact, the night before my mother's funeral, I came across her threadbare copy of "Gone With the Wind," which she had read at least a dozen times. To my delight, I found many underlined passages, each one providing a special window into my mother's heart. I quoted some of those lines in the eulogy, giving family and friends new insight into the person who had not only given me life, but who had fostered my love of reading.

Before the house painter arrived, I removed all the carefully catalogued treasures for a while. More important is the self-inventory I took to help me understand what really "kindles" my soul.


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