Like a good, and perhaps claustrophobic, librarian, I worked to cull my bookshelves. The goal was to tidy, straighten and organize, to make them look like something a set designer from a decorating magazine would appreciate.
Books had accumulated like the flakes of skin we shed each day: Books I hadn’t read; books I read but hated; books I loved; signed books written by friends and acquaintances; a special hoard of children’s books that I allowed children to read only with direct supervision; and books for which I had no memory whatsoever.
I started with an empty box.
“Aha!” I said, spying my first victim in the top right-hand corner of the top shelf.
“Uh, this book,” I said. I couldn’t wait to get rid of this book. It was one I had read years earlier during my “Holocaust” phase. It had the look of an early self-published product. I knew I’d never read it again, but before I chucked it, I opened it randomly, and started reading.
Mistake #1: Do not read the books you are going to toss.
It was a compelling first-person account of someone who had survived Auschwitz. I waffled. Rather than into the “give away” box, it went on a spot on the floor that was a “Don’t put back on the bookshelf yet. Read again before you toss.”
I hummed, I perused spines, I remembered stories and characters and authors. I dusted. I straightened the snapshots of my kids. I hummed some more.
“Aha!” A weird book that I’d hated. Into the box. No second thoughts. I remembered this book; I had hated every second of reading it.
I hummed as my fingers walked the book spines. “Oh, this book!” I said aloud. It had been recommended years ago by a friend. I didn’t make it past the preface. Into the box.
Out of the box: What was it about anyway? Hmmm, it doesn’t sound that bad. And, can I throw out a brand new book that no one has read more than ten pages? Into the “Read before you toss” pile.
Mistake #2: Never worry about how much you paid for a book. A terrible book is a terrible book.
Another unread book with an interesting cover. “Uck. This was truly awful. I never made it past page 20, but I repeated Mistake #1. I read the opening line. Not bad. Maybe I would read it after all. Maybe I just hadn’t been ready for it before. Onto the “Read before you toss” pile.
Have you been keeping a tally? So far, one book in the “toss box”; three in the “read again” pile.
I intended to at least remove and dust each book on the shelf, but when I came across a long-forgotten book from my childhood, I opened the yellowed pagesn curiosity and started reading. It was about an obstinate, egotistical talking horse who adopted a boy. It was funny and it was brilliant, and I was eight-years-old again.
I clutched it to my chest like a newborn when my husband came home. “What are you doing?” he asked, looking at me sitting dazed and cross-legged on the floor surrounded by books.
“Oh,” I said, putting the vintage “Casey, the Utterly Impossible Horse” on the top of the shelf and patting it gently. “Just putting away a few books.”
I stacked and wedged the books on the shelf in an even bigger jumble than they had been. I had a book that needed attention, and seriously, when is the last time a photographer came to the door wanting to take pictures of my bookshelves?
© 2013 Sue Farrell Holler