by Jessica Harrington
While spending time at Brain Pickings last night, I came across a review by Maria Popova on a book titled The Burning House: What would you take? by Foster Huntington. Huntington asked himself this question: What would you grab as you fled your burning home? He made a pile of what he would grab and photographed it. He then asked friends to do the same and started a blog. Then he asked bloggers the same question and had people submit pictures and descriptions. Foster wanted a wider perspective though, not just blogger types, so he set out on a road trip to find persons from all walks of life to answer his simple question. This Tumblr blog turned book is an amazing collection of what objects, rational and sentimental, we identify ourselves with.
While looking through photos from the book, I noticed that almost every person had included a book, note, or journal. I started to think about what I would grab (my dogs, my mother’s antique mason jar, my great grandmother’s rosary) and wondered if a book would make my list, and one did- Fantasy Animals by Cathee Van Rossem St. Clair. Now it is not an American Classic or special edition, it is a simple book of illustrations and poem like descriptions of fantasy animals. There is a dedication from the people who gave it to me on the inner front cover that reads: For Jessica Xmas ’90 From Virginia and Ed. I don’t remember who Virginia and Ed are; I don’t remember receiving the book as a gift on that Christmas morning in 1990. I do, however, remember spending countless hours at my desk as a child trying to draw the fantasy animals, trying to make up new poems for them, and dreaming of finding these magical creatures in far off lands one day. It is the only book from my childhood that I still have and I still flip through it regularly. It reminds me of a more innocent time, when anything was possible. When I had an amazing imagination, a drive for discovery, and was still naive enough to think the only evil in the world was the likes of Dr. Claw, Inspector Gadget’s arch nemesis.
Books are more than the words written between the covers, they are outlets of who we once were, who we are, or what we wish to become. They inspire us and remind us of what is important. Books are replaceable (for the most part) but the copy you have carried around with you for twenty-two years; the book that has kept you company; the book that has been worn, ripped, and written in during your journey together, is not. With that, I will leave you with a question- if your house was burning to the ground, would you grab a book? Which one and why?