When to go?

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.

Time for us to go leave the front porch behind and go back to the city. But what a lovely reading spot.

“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.

It's hard to say good-bye.

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.

Slowly, too slowly, the sack is filling up in the workroom I share with Ginger-the-Cat.

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.

8 responses to “When to go?

  1. I had bookcases in every room of the house I sold when I bought my RV and took to the road. I had already given my children the books they wanted, so I picked out the ones that I thought my friends would like. Then I took the rest to the used book store and sold them the ones they wanted. The rest were donated to the local thrift store — well except for the several bins of boxes I couldn’t part with and stored at one of my kids’ home.

  2. Trilla,

    Love the Dorothy Sayers quote!

    I like how this post shows us memoir at its best. It illuminates your life through books and the life of books and how books give us life. You also touch on the core of how modern life especially is filled with transition, and how those transitions are told through our objects: What we choose to keep, and what we choose to let go.

    This is a continuing theme in my life and thoughts and activity. Your questions on how to parse this sorting are extremely helpful for us all:

    “…I 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?”

    I’ve found these types of questions to be powerful tools in deciding what place the objects in my life still hold–for me and for my space.

    Janet Riehl

  3. Thanks for this great look at a book lover’s house–and the agonizing decisions that sometimes need to be made. What a pleasure to listen to someone like me, to whom books are not just paper and cardboard–she drowns out the voices of the kids who say “Why don’t you get rid of some of these. Do you really need so many bookcases? Why do you keep them if you’ve already read them?” Etc. Etc. And I do periodically bring gradually filled boxes to my library (yay, Amazon, here I come!). Never, ever are they just thrown away–that would be bookicide, and I don’t want that on my conscience!

  4. There’s a site called http://www.paperbackswap.com. It has sister sites for swapping cds and dvds. When you list books and someone orders them, you pay the shipping, which gives you credits. You *could* opt to replace them in your house. Or, if you have friends that live within the U.S., you could have books for them drop-shipped to their houses. I love the idea of turning books into my house into books in my friends’ houses, while making other folks happy.

    A wide variety of subject matter is available: I’ve ordered foreign language dictionaries for my dad, history books for my friend with the severe case of trilogy, genre books for other friends. I’ve also been able to set hundreds of cds free for others to enjoy. Admittedly, I enjoy the ego-boost of seeing folks get exactly the book or cd they want & be excited about it.

    You’ll probably wind up with a combination of library, thrift store, gifts to friends, donations to universities, swapping sites, etc. Much like healthy ponds, healthy collections need multiple outlets. Done right, getting rid of can be as much fun as acquiring.

  5. Oh, Trilla! I can’t tell you how much I identify with you. How many times have I started the “book purge,” worked for several hours at it, and then just given up. Usually, yes, I end up with a tote bag full of books to donate, but still, so many book shelves yet to go! I was go intrigued by your story of sitting down to dip back into LITTLE WOMEN! Coincidentally, my book club is reading MARCH by Geraldine Brooks, which you no doubt know is a spin-off LW, telling the father’s story of his Civil War experiences. I am leading the discussion tonight, since this book was my choice. A second reading of MARCH makes me feel that I had made a good choice. But your identifying with Marmee this time around! So fascinating, given what a vivid portrayal of Marmee Brooks has in her book! Anyway, as far as where the books should go: I would say the library. We have a big book sale every year here in my city, and I know it’s one of their biggest fund raising events. I confess I have only gone to it once, because it is overwhelming and, besides, I end up buying too many books!

  6. oh my, you’ve been reading my life! Thank you for sharing your joys and struggles around your books! My parents and grandparents owned a bookstore when my mother was pregnant with me, I grew up surrounded by books, and now work in a divine independent bookstore. My patient spouse laughs and says (after 17 years) that I can keep working there if I don’t spend more than my paycheck. I can so identify with putting books in boxes to get rid of, give away, donate. Trouble is that for some strange reason the boxes just stay in the closet…out of sight and in my mind no longer taking up space. And, there are stacks and piles in just about every room in the house. And always a book bag with one or two good reads to go with me when I leave the house. Add this to my love of blank books for writing/journaling and I’m pretty hopeless. Glad to know I’m not the only one! Thank you for bringing a smile to my heart!

  7. Trilla, obviously your wonderfully engaging story hit a nerve with us bibliophiles! I have had to move a lot in my life and have therefore had to purge books more often than I care to think about. Each time, I’ve had to answer those questions: Will I read this book again? Do I want to keep it for my children or grandchildren? Do I have room for it? After the last move (less than a year ago), my collection is once again growing. But I’ve developed a few coping mechanisms to allow me to fit books in the space that I have:
    • Each time I finish a book I decide whether it’s “good enough to keep” (i.e. I think I’ll read or refer to it again). If not, I list it on Amazon for sale — and since I often buy used books, it’s like getting to read for free.
    • I buy ebooks whenever possible (hey, no limit on bookshelf space!)
    • I keep one year’s worth of magazines. When I get a new magazine, the oldest one goes either in recycling or to a friend. I give a shelf life of 2 years to writing magazines and journals.
    • I avoid reading publications like The London Review of Books! (joking)

    I hope this helps as you’re considering management strategies for your books:-).

  8. Oh I loved this article. I hope you can also include it in your blog. I am so overwhelmed with my art book collection I simply cannot talk about it. It was fun this week when a friend asked if I knew about a certain famous artist who is a relative of hers I suggested I look to see If I have the book. I pulled out a huge catalog on this fellow to let her take home. She loved it and ordered it right away. I was glad I had not pruned my library. I don’t know if I would have kept that one.

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