500 Books and Two for the Desert Island



I love a wall of books. It unfailingly rightens and reassures my weary, distracted world.

Not just anyone’s wall will do, though.  I need my hand-selected wall: that mish-moshed reflection of personal passions and meaning,  in which each volume has survived at least one of my annual-ish purges, if not decades of them.

While I gather new books often, I let go of plenty. Some go to the local library, some to trade at Logo’s, the local used book buyer/seller. (Where I easily spend my cash and trade-in credits on more.)

Novels and pop culture bestsellers – if I don’t request them from the library – tend to come in and go out.

My keepers?  Vintage tomes, family works (yes, I’m related to more than one published author) and Art: history, artists, philosophy, creative process and technique, i.e. reference books.

I’ve always preferred Non-Fiction. As a slightly-bored pre-teen,  I would page through the authoritative-but-obviously-dated-even-to a-kid 1944 Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia. Sometimes I scanned Webster’s Third, usually looking for naughty slang. I also delved into Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, Science in Your Own BackyardLost in the Horse Latitudes, or anything with “How to” in the title.  I often did not understand what I read, but my folks had an Open Book Policy so I knew I could always go back and re-read.

And that’s the beauty of keeping books handy, as far as I know. They are there when you need to read all or parts of them again. (This goes for works of fiction as well.) The wall of books I have kept has developed a definite cant towards Ceramic Art. One of those shelves, pictured at the top, contains every Lark 500 Series volume on Clay/Ceramics published since 2002, plus 500 Handmade Dolls and 500 Baskets. (If they ever announce plans to publish 500 Ceramic Cans, I will be submitting my work on opening day.) These 500 Series books go deep and wide for me. They provide encouragement, inspiration, reminders, even gentle prods towards excellence. Any one of them serves perfectly well as a pictured encyclopedia to wander in and wonder over when I need a recharge.

I have even outgrown and released some of my ceramics books. The basic intro cookbooks written for beginners have departed. Gone, too, are those exotic books about specific techniques and materials I no longer am interested in.

There are still plenty of dozens to make my shelves groan. Works by Daniel Rhodes, Marguerite Wildenhain, Robin Hopper, Robert Piepenburg, Mattias Ostermann: each goes deep into the vortex of his or her subject, telling stories, imparting wisdom and sharing great examples.  I revisit them with new questions and leave with new enjoyment. I even like puttering around in Hamer’s  The Potter’s Dictionary of Materials and Techniques. No surprise there, I guess.

Beyond those favorites, I consider two as Books for the Ages. When I’m fleeing the Zombie Apocalypse to the safety of The Proverbial Desert Island, these are the two I would grab:

A Potter’s Workbook by Clary Illian and Finding One’s Way with Clay by Paulus Berensohn.

What yin and yang at work in these works! An independent female wheel-throwing potter who apprenticed at Leach Pottery, and a pinch pot making dancing male “deep ecologist” (as he later described himself.) What they share are calm engaging voices and uber-personal points of view. They venture cleanly and clearly into and beyond their crafting advice, delving into the fine points of aesthetics, function, history and, above all for me, the meaning they found in taking their paths expressed through their ceramic art.

Paths near enough to mine for me to consider them clay gurus.  I will continue to need their guidance even if no clay is around, so they will be great company on my desert isle.

~Liz Crain, who admits to keeping a few favorite novels too. The best of those is one she’s mentioned here before. That’s because the central character finds solace and sanity in clay, a fact which she connected with on about the 6th reading: Norma Jean the Termite Queen by Sheila Ballantyne. Get it out of the library, enjoy it and return it before it’s due.


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