Waterlogged by Donalyn Miller

As some of you know from Twitter, Facebook, and phone calls, our home flooded this week. We live in Texas, so this wasn’t a Sandy-related disaster. A water line burst while we weren’t home. Water flowed from room to room, soaking anything touching the floor—including curtains, rugs, and furniture. Worst hit was my book room. Because we can close the door and hide piles in there, the floor was covered with towers of books and journals. My husband, Don, begged me not to go in there, and I still haven’t. He and our son-in-law, Andrew, spent Halloween night wicking water off the floor and carrying out stacks of sodden paper. I sat in our damp bedroom closet—drying shoes and crying.

Talking with my co-workers the next day, one well-meaning friend said, “Wow. If you had kept all of those books on a Kindle, you would still have them. You should go digital.” Her remark shocked me. I own two Kindles and I have failed to bond with them. I know many people who own e-readers and find that the portability and convenience enhance their reading lives. For me, reading off a screen will never replace holding a book in my hand. I barely remember the books I read on my Kindle, and I don’t feel connected to the stories when I finish them.

I appreciate technology as much as anyone, but I don’t love my laptop as much as I love my old copy of Lord of the Rings. I like holding a paperback open across the bridge of my thumb. I like how new books smell different than old ones. I like poring over endpapers and maps. I like turning a book sideways to see how many pages I have left. I like our stuffed bookcases. Most of all, I like passing a book to a child or a friend. A digital book can never replace my paper books. Talking with our youngest daughter, Sarah, she feels the same way. Our books own us as much as we own them. Happily, our flood didn’t reach her bookshelves.

I still cannot go into my book room. I am not worried about what I will find. I am worried about what I won’t find. Each one of my lost books stands for a memory—an author I met, a languid afternoon spent reading, silly moments in my classroom, a beloved child who treasured the book. Until my books return, these memories remain unmoored, lost in my past without the books to call them up again. My books are more than possessions to me. Over the printed words, I scrawled my life’s story on those pages. I want my life back.

Our insurance company will replace all of the books they can. We are lucky. Many people lost their lives, their homes, and their businesses during the storm this week, and I look at our flood as an inconvenience more than anything else. While water reclamation specialists dry out our walls and rip out the wood floors, we must live at a nearby hotel. Don stops by the house several times a day to check on the restoration work and pick up anything we might need.  Along with toiletries and clothes, I asked him to bring back my new copy of Ashtown Burials #2: The Drowned Vault. Safely wedged in a bookcase in our bedroom, the book escaped damage.

My life continues, and I need another book to house this chapter in my story.

** Help people who suffered during Superstorm Sandy by participating in the Kid Lit Cares auction on Kate Messner’s website. Auction proceeds will be donated to the Red Cross.

Donalyn Miller is a fourth grade teacher at Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, TX. She is the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday.