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I *heart* books

Friday, May 25, 2007 by Marianne Elliott

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I've accumulated quite a pile of books here in Afghanistan. Every time I travel I pick up some new ones to add to my collection. The books come in three different types. There are the top-shelf books, the bottom-shelf books and the books that live on my treasured wooden bedside table.

On the top shelf are the novels, some wonderful novels by some great writers. I read them and loved them, but once they are read they go up on the shelf and wait for someone to come along who I think will enjoy them. Then they head out for a little tour of Afghanistan, making their way from one guesthouse to another and filling the long, lonely evenings of many different readers with a little adventure, beauty, drama and joy.

On the bottom shelf are my reference books. They include some reference books about Afghanistan and human rights along with my Astanga Vinyasa Yoga home practice guide, books on meditation and even a book on "drawing and sketching". These books are often pulled down for evening study or weekend play.

Then there are the books that never make it onto the shelves. There are about a dozen books that I refer to on an almost daily basis, or at least several times a week. These include my precious books of poetry – by Rumi, Carol Ann Duffy, Mary Oliver and Janet Frame. These are books that I dip into over and over again and each of which is special for its own sake and also for the sake of the wonderful women who either gave or recommended them to me.

My "close-to-hand" books also include the writings of Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun whose tapes on "Going to the places that scare you" were my most constant and sane companion in the very darkest days of this winter. I now have two of her books, one of which was a gift from a very wise and kind friend. I read a little of Pema's teaching almost every morning before or after my seated meditation.

I also have two 'self-therapy' books on the go – one is by Fiona Harrold (Be Your Own Life Coach) and the other is by Stephanie Dowrick (Intimacy and Solitude). I brought both these books with me to Afghanistan when I first came because they are reliable and accessible tools for working through complex thoughts and feelings and I long ago decided to keep them always within reach. They have been travelling with me for many years now – Intimacy and Solitude was in Gaza with me eight years ago.

Also on my pile are at least two moleskine journals (for reasons I don't even understand I have two on the go at any given time), Sabrina Ward Harrison's journal 'The True and the Questions' and my newest writing companion – 'Writing Down the Bones' by Natalie Goldberg. My moleskins actually don't stay on the table, they come everywhere with me. I even take them into work meetings in case I get bored with the discussions or I'm simply overcome wih creative energy and have no choice but to whip out the moleskine and let it all out.

Sigh, I *heart* books!

PS:  I was very excited to get a comment on my recent post from a very special old friend from my days in the Gaza Strip. He said something very true and very on-the-button so I wanted to repeat it here in case it is as useful to someone else as it was to me (Thanks M x):

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man."


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10 Responses to "I *heart* books"

  1. A beautiful post, Frida dear… I
    It’s lovely how the universe looks out for us by sending us someone who will know the exact right thing to say to us at the exact right moment…
    Hope you continue to feel better, dear friend…

  2. susanna says:

    I heart books, too! I’m going to write down several of the book titles that you’ve mentioned to see if I can find one or two at my local library. Pemo Chodron’s book sounds very interesting and you know, my sister gave me Fiona Harrold’s book but I haven’t read it yet. I recently finished The Kite Runner. Wow. What a heartwrenching story… I like your idea of passing on your books to travelers in Afghanistan. Imagine who will read those books on human rights and the other books of poetry…

  3. [a} says:

    That’s so kind of you, giving books to people you meet in Afghanistan. It’s like offering a little porthole for some escape.

  4. ceanandjen says:

    Books are gifts. I have them scattered throughout my house, and I too catagorize them. 🙂
    I hope that you are doing well and that you are at peace. Have a wonderful weekend.

  5. homeinkabul says:

    I’m going to check out the books that you mentioned. I love books. Yay books!!! Books make me giddy.

  6. I certainly heart books too– just came to Kabul and half my suitcase is filled with books. Plan to read them and leave them. I think the Cabul Coffee House keeps a little book exchange for patrons.
    Frieda, if you’re ever in Kabul (I’m here 5/26-6/23), I’d love to meet you! E me at if this is possible.

  7. I came here via Di Mackey’s blog, and I am glad I did! I am fascinated by what you do, and your grit. Yours is an inspiring blog. Thanks for the book suggestions!

  8. susannah says:

    i’d probably shrivel up and die and if didn’t have my books around me! funny how most of our books are the same 😉 xo

  9. Laini says:

    Hi Frida! I {heart} books too! I don’t have such an organized system; just a general overflow, but I never get rid of books I love — or even books I like. I only trade back the blah ones. I love the way books look stacked on the floor. Even seeing them can be inspiring!

  10. Margaret says:

    Thanks for the book suggestions, Frida. I also enjoy reading Pema Chodron and Writing Down the Bones. Intimacy and Solitude seems like a book that is right up my alley.

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