Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Lives of Books

When I retired two years ago, I had about 400 books in my office.  I started getting rid of them a few years before retirement by giving each student a book at the end of the semester as a gift.  I then gave the rest of the books to the UofL English Graduate Organization (EGO) for their book sale.

This last few weeks, we have been readying our house to sell.  As part of that I had to reduce the number of books I had at our large house to the much smaller number of books I could keep in the condo.

At the house, I had about 1000 books--ten book cases that held about 100 books each.  Tony has a comparable number.  We decided we could each have 3 bookcases at the condo.  So I had to downsize from 1000 to about 300 books. Which to keep and which to give away?

About half of my home books were novels--mostly gifts Tony has given me over our life together.   The other half was part of my professional library: books about critical theory, rhetoric, composition pedagogy and evolutionary biology;

Most of the novels I had read.  I had to carefully choose those that were most important.  The rest, I took out the first page which held a dedication and wrote the name of the book and author on it. The professional books were those I had read mainly for particular research projects--the kind of research I no longer plan to do.

How did I decide which books to keep and which to give away?   I chose novels that have been especially meaningful for me--harkening to points in my life that were shaped by particular books, or books whose meanings I continue to carry with me. The professional books I kept were those that had most deeply defined my ideas.  But those decisions were difficult and even painful.  I've lived my life surrounded by books, and they are valuable and evocative to me, even if already read,  I cannot imagine living anyplace that didn't have books.  Our house at the lake has several bookcases as well.

Now most of my books have gone to EGO for their fund-raising sale.  And I suppose they will then continue to fulfill their main function: being read.  But their physical presence--their weight, heft, and color remains a loss.

I am not alone in my saving books over a lifetime.  It's not a sensible decision, because we will never read them all again or for the first time. But we have a hard time letting go.  For many people, their books define who they are.



sjsm said...

Very nice. Very meaningful. I know how hard it must have been for you to part with those books. Here's to looking ahead - to new bookshelves to be filled and memories to be made~

Debra Journet said...

Thanks. It's better now they're gone. But packing them up was tough. Did you decide when you want to come?

Marilyn Cooper said...

I KNOW‼. I can't imagine doing this, and fortunately I won't have to.

Debra Journet said...

You are fortunate--though there is something to be said for winnowing down. The number of books I never read or will never read again is formidable. Now that they are gone, it is easier.

Caree Risover said...

Full of admiration for your will power. I find giving away books, even for good causes and despite the fact that they spill over into heaps on the floor, so difficult. Worse still I have no problem buying more every time I browse a charity shop bookshelf or pass the local bookshop.

Debra Journet said...

It IS hard. But moving involves so much chaos (especially when you are doing it surrounded by workers in your house), you reach a point when you just want to let go. For the first time in forever, our attic and basement are empty. All our junk and unwanted items were taken away. It was almost like a miracle. I am all for minimalism these days. Well, relative minimalism anyway. . . .