Dull Women Have Immaculate Coffee Tables

This piece was featured on Freshly Pressed at the end of May 2011! Thank you WordPress! 

How many books and magazines does one coffee table need? Turns out our coffee table needs between 25 to 35. Those occasions when I want to create order from chaos in my home I look at our coffee table in despair. Armed with Pledge and a cloth I resolve to decrease the clutter and get to work, determined to have no more than 10 books and magazines by the time I am finished.

And then I begin – there’s Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa, a story that captures the experience of a Palestinian family after 1948. Just the opening sentence is enough to warrant a place on my coffee table.

In a distant time, before history marched over the hills and shattered present and future, before wind grabbed the land at one corner and shook it of its name and character, before Amal was born, a small village east of Haifa lived quietly on figs and olives, open frontiers and sunshine.”

That book definitely stays. I put it back. Then there’s The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah, a humorous, entertaining account of a man who leaves cold, rainy England and relocates his family to sunny Casablanca, Morocco, taking on the daunting task of remodeling a villa. That one stays. It’s a tale that reminds me dreams can come true in the middle of winter.

I move on to 5 copies of the New Yorker Magazine. But they all look so interesting and although my husband has read several articles, I have not,  so I place them back on the table. I’ll get to them this summer.

Jars of Clay and The Day the Chicken Cackled? No way can those two be put away. The first, written by Pauline A. Brown (my mom!), is a reminder of  my heritage on days when it feels threatened. That too has a first sentence that I have memorized and used:

“I take missionaries out and monkeys back and I don’t know which is worse!”- We recognized that voice – the captain of our ship was talking to the captain of a passing ship.”

Through words and images I’m brought into the world my parents experienced as they headed to Pakistan in 1954 and set up a new home in a place they had barely read about, creating a new normal for their young family that would ultimately expand to 7, then 12, then grandchildren and ultimately great grands. The second, penned by Bettie Rose Addleton, gives stories from a life in Pakistan, an intimate look at friendships and customs. Both books are vital to my life and my past. They serve as reference books and challenge me to continue writing this blog and think about writing more.

At this point, I realize I have only gone through 4 books and 5 magazines and have 20 more to consider but I’ve already gone over my self-imposed limit of 10. Sighing I decide that Infections and Inequalities (Paul Farmer); The Dude Abides (Kathleen Falsani); and Songs of Blood and and Sword (an autographed copy from Fatima Bhutto) and my small blue Bible (my lifeline to all of life) all have to stay. Even if read only a chapter at a time, they signify something of our interests and loves.

I make a judgment call realizing it’s the only way I can justify clutter: Dull women have immaculate coffee tables. 

I realize that it’s a losing battle. As much as I want to decrease clutter, these books are like friends and to take them off my coffee table is like taking them out of my life. I realize just how irrational it is as I look at the packed bookshelf directly across from the coffee table. I give up and console myself by paraphrasing a well-known quote.

“Women with immaculate coffee tables rarely make history.”