Have you ever been inside a home without any books? None at all. Zero, zilch, nada.
I am not exaggerating here. How do I know this? That this particular house (names of its owners withheld to protect the guilty) contained no books? Because I snooped.
Yes, while the homeowners were otherwise occupied, I peeked into every room. Surely I would find a bookcase in a guest room. Nope. Or bookshelves in their study. Not there either. I glimpsed into the master bedroom, hoping to see night tables piled with books – or some magazines, show me some printed material, please!
But no luck. These people happen to be smart, well-educated human beings. They are very busy with their jobs, they work hard and when they don’t work, they exercise. Perhaps they read on their laptops while exercising?
I am still puzzling over this a few weeks later.
I know I am being very “judgey” – it is just that I can’t imagine what it is like to live a life without being surrounded by the tangible evidence of your life in book form.
I like looking at all of the books I read as a child, books I once read to my children, books that got me through law school, books I just finished, books I am now reading, books I want to read, books to share with friends and books to give to my grandkids.
My husband and I are now in the process of “decluttering” and hopefully downsizing (do you know anyone who wants to buy a very well-loved family house?)- and part of that process means purging our “huge” (meant in a very non-Donald-Trumpian-sort-of-way) collection of books.
Over the years I have tried to lighten my toppling shelves but have failed. Our local high school has a wonderful used book sale every spring. Every March I promise myself I will haul boxes of boxes to the school on the designated drop-off days. This is the year to fulfill that promise.
Where to start in a collection of hundreds of favorites?
One shelf is devoted to mysteries I love by Ruth Rendell, P.D. James and Elizabeth George. Another to the multi-volume set of epistolary diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The lovely female-strong, village-based novels of under-rated (IMHO) British author Barbara Pym pack another shelf.
Wartime and spy novels written by Eric Ambler, Alan Furst, John le Carre and their lesser peers fill several shelves.
Three or four shelves contain my own collection of cookbooks, some purchased, some inherited from my mother – and no, I won’t sell you my autographed editions of the older Julia Child’s or The French Menu Cookbook (Olney) or my multi-volume set of leather-bound Gourmet cookbooks.
Spaces filled with presidential biographies, history, novels and political memoirs.
How to choose which books to donate – and which books to keep?
Like selecting which child I love least!
I sat on the floor by our upstairs hall bookcase to ponder earlier this week. Taking down books, one by one, blowing off the dust (some of these books have been there for y-e-a-r-s) and finding bits of our lives tucked in the pages. Bookmarks (remember those?). Old letters from even older friends. Receipts. Kids’ drawings. Dog photos. Notes with mystery phone numbers.
A parade of books showing who I was at all the stages of my life since we moved into this house when I was 31 years old and pregnant with our first child.
What kind of person keeps nearly every book she has ever read? A person who thinks old books are just as important as old friends? Or maybe they are the same thing.
I like my human friends fine but they don’t nourish me as much as the sight of all of my beloved books on the shelves. The kindle is handy but hardly evocative of memories.
Looking at an old book I remember exactly where I was when I read it.
The David Maraniss book that kept me so engrossed when I was on a bus ride crossing Northern Israel that I totally missed out on the beautiful scenery. The Ruth Rendell mystery that comforted me with its strong characters when I was very ill in the hospital. The lovely short stories by Laurie Colwin that I first read as a young mother and re-read often today. And the Jhumpa Lahiri book where I cried when I got to its last page because the book had ended and I wanted the story to go on and on.
It took me a long time to fill up the 21 boxes of books I donated last week but I did it. Still the shelves are hardly denuded. Some favorites, I just couldn’t let them go.
I can’t say goodbye to some of them yet. And why should I? If we ever complete the “decluttering” process (hello, JP, are you listening? are we going to keep your old sports memorabilia forever?), and get around to selling this house, I am sure there will be empty bookcases in our new place.
I already look forward to filling them up with old printed friends to make us feel at home.