When to go, where to go?
Twenty years living in a little southern town proved interesting and fun, but now it was time to move on—give up the yellow and white bungalow with towering pines and friendly porch and get back to city living. We had spent the morning slicking up the house. We couldn’t ask our friend and house-sitter to put up with our personal mess, and there was always the chance we might want to take the plunge and sell it. Time for a break. We sat at our friend Holly’s bakery-café debating whether to share a piece of her wicked apple pie when two friends strolled in.
“Can you believe it? We got these great books for a dollar apiece at the library.” Basil said as they pulled up chairs and started piling books on the table.
“I didn’t even know they sold books and they’ve got shelves and shelves of them.” Patrick, the English professor, patted one fondly, “I’ve almost bought this from Amazon a couple of times but it just isn’t in a teacher’s budget.”
Bob and I started laughing at the same moment. Yes, we could believe it! These came from the three carloads of books we’d hauled to the library two days earlier—483 in all. We shared the source of our mirth, and I regretted I hadn’t known so I could have given them straight to the guys. We finally decided that this way we’d all supported the library. That made us all winners. The two of them insisted on buying our pie.
This wasn’t the end. We still had more books to give. (ouch!) Politely, the library told us “thanks, but no thanks.” In a town of 10,000 the library is small and we’d stretched their gift capacity. Patrick eagerly accepted my fifteen-year collection of The Paris Review—I miss them still, and nearby Tallahassee Goodwill runs a bookstore (still does, I hope) —they were happy to have the rest. We decided to haul the ones (way too many) that we can’t live without toHouston.
Now, four years later and still in the rented house (we gave a resounding ‘yes’ to city living), I’ve got the problem—no problems—again. We’re smothering in books. The one-in one-out rule isn’t working. The house teems with books. We look like one of those English country houses described in novels where you have to move a stack of books before you can find a place to sit down. I don’t want to give up most of them, and when I finally make that brutal decision, then comes the question where do they go?
First, which ones go? Some are easy. The paperback I buy on a whim at Walgreen’s because it’s rainy, and I‘d rather read than watch TV. Not a problem. I keep a pretty gift bag in my workroom. I toss in the book and that’s that until the sack is full. (Rule 1—no sifting back through the sack to reconsider. In the sack; out of the house.) It gets tricky when the bookcases—there is no room for more—start overflowing. Even the ones that are double-stacked. Okay, I tell myself, two boxes before lunch. Some are easy. Dorothy Sayers put it in a nutshell:
“Books are like lobster shells. We surround ourselves with them, then we grow out of them and leave them behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.”
I took it to heart and began to ask myself, will I read it again; will anyone else in the family? Then I ask, and this is what tips me over many times, do I want this book to take up a place on the shelf, or do I want a new one? Many times, easy answer. Bingo.
Not always though. Little Women, I decided, could go. After all, my own daughter is almost Marmee’s age. But as I headed for the box, I realized that I couldn’t quite remember how the book ended. I scooted for the couch instead of the box. An hour or so later I was deep in the story. Carryout for dinner, for sure. I loved the story as much as when I was about thirteen and determined, as are so many girls, to grow up to be another Jo, although scrawny thing that I was, I probably looked more like Beth. This time around I did love the story, but I wasn’t involved with Jo. My identification had changed—all I could think of was Marmee. That poor girl (girl, to me, anyway) with all those rowdy teenagers and her husband off running after that war while she worked hard all day, barely keeping things afloat. It was the same book, but my-oh-my was it a different story.
Or take the case of Gargoyles. Now why did I have a picture book about these funny creatures? No telling. I looked inside for a last look and saw the inscription—suddenly, I was inFrance scampering from cathedral to cathedral on a gargoyle chase with John and Linda. This book was my next Christmas gift from Linda. No way. Back on the shelf.
I’m getting better. Not good, but better. The boxes are slowly filling up. Now there’s a new problem. . .I’ll deal with it later, I hope with your help. Once I get these books boxed up and sealed (to keep me out of them), where do they go? The library? Goodwill? Second-hand bookstore? Suggestions please!
One last-minute thought: magazines. A dear friend gave me London Review of Books. The first one came today. I’m in bigger trouble than if she’d given me five pounds of chocolates. I read it during lunch. The articles are fascinating, but—the ads for books! Look! Harvard University Press has just released Patricia Meyer Spacks memoir, On Rereading. And here I was just writing about that. If I find three more books for the sack, maybe I’ll just go to Amazon or see if Brazos Bookstore can order it for me.