I have been lugging around tons of books for most of my life. Paying to have them lugged around. What for? Are my guests supposed to be impressed that I read “Man’s Fate” when I was in college? Are they expected to faint at the sight of my Jack Kerouac collection? Keeping all these books is one of those quandries I wrestle with — granted, less of a moral quandry than whether or not I should be eating animals or using plastic.
I have decided to let go. I have sold or given away hundreds of book over the last year. It didn’t hurt at all. I have more shelf space, more white space in my life. Even the art books I relied on heavily for writing: I used them well. Bye-bye. Even books I loved, like a children’s book that was passed on to me by my grandmother. It’s too antiquated to appeal to my grandchildren. I love looking at the familiar pictures, but not as much as I am beginning to love my white space. I have adored the shelf of travel books I have saved from every trip I took, but I now carry Dublin in my heart. Why do I need “Ireland on $5 a Day” from 1975?
I’m not ready to let go of my hardback “Collected Works of Dylan Thomas.” The title has come off the spine and the binding is a little wiggly. But I love it truly, deeply, madly. However, I don’t really need four copies of “The Wizard of Oz” (including a popup version). I parted with my gorgeous book of B&W photos of Chet Baker; I gave it to my sister for her birthday. I gave my son the detailed book on hiking Tuolumne Meadows; it’s time for him to take his kids and I will probably never see those granite hills again. I gave my best friend my cherished copy of “Shoulder to Shoulder,” a book based on a TV documentary about feminist movement history. That book turned my life upside down. Now she has to deal with it.
So many of the books I have loved/hoarded sit around unopened and mildewed, like all those books on gardening and cooking. I turn to the Internet for that information now. When I’m dying for something new to read, I hit the free bookshelf outside my local gourmet convenience store, carting home pre-loved copies of books I might never have come across. When I’m through, they go right back to the free bookshelf.
It’s exhilarating. Like shedding weight. I can’t take my books with me when I die. At my age, everything is an exercise in letting go. It’s a lot of fun.