Book life

Alden read me Hop on Pop just now.

He needed help a few times, and man, I do think Dr. Seuss threw a big old wrench in the works by including the last few pages (I mean, all of a sudden, “My brothers read a litle bit. Little words like If and It. My father can read big words too, like Constantinople and Timbuktu.” Really? After building dude’s confidence the whole way (VERY cleverly) you end it with a big old dose of “You can’t read this, ask your mom?”) Oh well…

Point is, as Alden read this to me, Josh was continuing to work on one big aspect of our Day O’ Purging– sorting through all of our books to decide really, what to keep, and what to let go. Books are so, so hard for me, and Josh, to let go of. We both come from childhood homes where books were treasured, and stockpiled.

In my childhood home, one end of the 10-foot high living room was shelves, floor-to-ceiling, for books. By the time I left for college, books were two-deep on many of the shelves. Visitng those shelves now is like doing family archaeology. Oh, right, here’s a section of John Lennon biographies (Tom, circa 1987). Here’s a Sweet Valley High. (my sister, circa 1988. Here’s my Dad’s high school yearbook, 1960. Here’s a yearbook from my dad’s high school, the year he got that teacher award (1980 or 81)…

The deal is, (we have been reminding ourselves over and over) we live in a very small place. Our house is about 900 square feet, with a basement that adds maybe 300 to that total, and isn’t quite yet a liveable part of the house.

No 10-foot floor-to-ceiling bookcases here… Yet we have a massive amount of books. I don’t know, Josh estimated 1500, I thought 10,000. The truth is somewhere in between.

I guess, if 1500 books sounds like not so many, move ’em.

Oh— and that doesn’t include children’s books– which we have SO, so many of– 15 years of teaching, combined with 5 years of Grandma Sue being a grandma (Grandma being her other title, the first being Librarian)– means that we have an embarrassment of children’s books. And we did not weed and whittle THAT collection with the kind of vigor that we did our grownup stockpiles. We gave away only items that were duplicates, or proven unfavorites. And nothing signed…

but adult books? Wow– it’s a crazy process. And this is not the first time our bookshelves have been edited– Our shelves contain almost NO “throwaways” any more. The John Grishams, the Douglas Adams, the Carl Hiassen’s… No, we’re at a place where we are picking and choosing only amongst good shit, for the most part.

Tom Robbins didn’t make the cut.

Kurt Vonnegut did.

Very little of my swords and sorcery stuff survived (though that collection had already been edited severely of crap-)… but Robin Hobb, Tolkein, and Guy Gavriel Kay (other than his Fionavar Trilogy) made the cut.

Most of my education-oriented books (and I was actually kind of stunned to see what a collection I have) are coming to my office, once I make space for them there.

Most of the poetry made it through… though I think I’ll be revisiting some of it soon.

Also, seems like a lot of how-to, and where-to, has convinced us of its usefulness, for at least one more go-round. On some level, these are gut decisions. The books we have on hand right now are still here because at a certain point they passed a test…

The test has gotten more stringent. To stay on the shelf in our tiny place, it seems a book needs to:

be emotionally important from the past

have potential for rereading

be excellent writing, within whatever genre it exists

have potential for rediscovering/learning from in a new phase of life

be practical for our actual life

To be clear, these weren’t rules we talked about and agreed to… these are the rules that seemed to emerge as we made decisions about what to keep and what not to keep.

I don’t know…

Great Gatsby yes

1984 no

Moby Dick yes

To the Lighthouse no

I don’t know…

When Alden is old enough to read these books, the idea of “paper books” may well seem extremely quaint. But maybe the fact that his parents chose to hold on to these particular ones will communicate something? Especially since, well, he read me Hop on Pop tonight, turning every paper page himself.


4 thoughts on “Book life

  1. Nice story Grace! I gave away 27 boxes of books 2 years ago.
    The Tin Tin comic books made the cut. Tolkien and
    all the Harry Potters did too.

  2. This is so hard. When we cleaned out my parents’s home, the books were overwhelming. Tons of books. One thing that helps me purge books is the fact that I know where to find another copy of a book, if I want to see it again. But so many have emotion within their covers.

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