My impressive library



Kevin Courtney

When I married Cheryl, I moved into a house with a floor-to-ceiling living room library stuffed to the gills. I was impressed. What a voracious reader, this woman.

In 2018, we decided to redo the show. This meant dismantling the imposing literary edifice. The books filled 26 boxes. We put them in the garage, hugging Cheryl’s car on two sides.

The restoration consisted of several phases. The replacement of a 19th century door by a pretty window. Installation of a gas fireplace. Retexturing of walls and ceiling. New wool carpet installation.

We were close to the finish line when COVID hit and the living room was converted into Cheryl’s home office.

Those boxed books in the garage? Largely forgotten.

Recently, I did a sneaky thing in hopes of reviving the project. Without telling Cheryl, I carried all 26 boxes out onto the porch creating an eyesore.

People also read…

But my strategy worked. Cheryl’s builder brother came to Napa for a day. He reworked the bookcase to fit around a window, not a door. Our century-old redwood wall is terribly bent, he grumbled.

Cheryl made it a point to complete the installation. The new shelves needed to be sanded down and stained to look like redwood. She finished after Labor Day.

The following weekend, we spent eight hours dusting the spiders and sorting through the contents of the 26 boxes. For reasons that baffled me, we now had far more books than we had shelf space.

Why so many John le Carré spy stories? Did I ever intend to read all of Ray Bradbury? And “Strength in What Remains” by Tracy Kidder. I got my copy during Kidder mania a few years ago, but never read it.

Cheryl stared coldly at Erma Bombeck’s “At Wit’s End” and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” And how many DIY guides do you need to build decks and skylights in your garden?

I was charmed by some of my rediscoveries, like my riddles of Inspector Maigret. I will reread them. And William Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways” – I can’t wait to see America again through his discerning eye. Same for Faulkner and Hemingway.

The real gems of the Courtney collection touched my roots. In 1942, a young US Army nurse, Louise A. Courtney of Holly Spring, Mississippi, stuck her nameplate in “The New Book of Etiquette.” She was preparing to be the perfect wife when her husband, my father, came home from the war.

Another heirloom, “The Wars of England and Scotland”, printed in 1870 and formerly owned by JG M’Cormack of Pultenytown, Scotland. I assume he was my paternal great-grandfather.

And his alleged daughter, Helena Maud MacCormack Courtney, wrote “To dear Kevin from Gram” on the inside cover of “A Book of Famous Explorers,” the 1901 edition. Grammy died 63 years ago. This book, never read, is my only physical link with her.

Cheryl’s Most Cherished Babysitter: “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” – a young girl’s coming-of-age story that she read over and over again as a teenager.

Included in our stash were three copies of James Conaway’s “Napa, the Story of an American Eden.” An important book on the founding of the modern Napa Valley wine industry, of course, but in THREE copies? And I haven’t read any of them cover to cover.

In the end, we donated a box of books to the Friends of the Napa Library.

The reinstalled library is an impressive thing. Not the Great Library of Alexandria, but unsurpassed for its personal significance. We made sure to leave room on the shelves for future books.

Some of these books are my best friends. They are who I once was and who I am now and who I want to become.

Kevin can be reached at [email protected]


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