Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Books, Books, Books
It seemed like the rooms were closing in, the walls inching forward from all sides. Not threatening but cozy and cradling us. It was our fourteen bookcases, friendly and familiar voices but indistinct in their cacophony. It was time to separate the once-important from the still-cherished. Some friendships decline into mere acquaintances, continuing long after their shelf life, ready to drift away or be dumped.
The stripping away process would be done with both cleaver and scalpel, from gladly to excruciating. After all, some of these books were the air we breathed. They sustained, even exhilarated us. And some provided the wind that fill our sails, battered us around or led us to unmapped ports.
In spite of my four public library cards put to good use we still find ourselves accumulating books; new discoveries, recommended books and classics that have passed us by. Now the shelves are sagging. Most of our bookcases are bolted to the wall but not all. In the event of a quake we could be buried under a ton of pages. There are worse ways to go, I’m sure.
The task at hand calls for tough love, giving up old infatuations. Some books are talked-out. Others are still jabbering or at least murmuring their secrets, wisdoms or mysteries. In the give-away pile are a bunch by C.Wright Mills who had my ear 50 years ago and some on dialectical materialism which had me by the collar a decade before that. I’m not ridding myself completely of either, retaining a few for old time’s sake. The question is not whether I’ll ever open them again. The dust jackets, alone, are like old photos which conjure a montage of memories.
Peggy and I have our separate struggles. I wrestle with my political and sport titles. She agonizes over art books and some older literary volumes with deckled pages and handsome endpaper which are hard to relinquish.
The sorting comes down to a matter of attachment or letting go. Can we rid ourselves of this poetry book when we have no particular affinity for the work…but it is inscribed to us? Are we really done with these letters of Eliot, essays of Twain, diaries of Nin, criticism by Nabokov, memoir by Paz?
We make two stacks; one, for family bibliophiles who would care for them as heirlooms containing a piece of us and the other pile for the library in the hope they would be passed along and valued by strangers.
After seven hours, we have completed just two bookcases and have pulled about 150 volumes. Many of the books to be ousted were lying on top of others or in closets. The stacks go into boxes too heavy to lift, barely able to even push with a leg.
Before we continue a more important matter needs to be settled. Peggy loves her objet d’art, which have had a home in front of each row. My eye sees it as clutter. Not to disparage the assorted horses (Etruscan, wood-carved, painted), vases, ceramic pots, tree bark, Hopi tile, a stone, fossil etc…but I see it as forest. Peggy sees each tree in its particularity. She has an aesthetic which can de-contextualize each article from its surrounding and zero in on what is beautiful. We compromise. Half return to their shelf place foregrounding the books and rest are yet to be determined.
If we have learned anything from these thousands of pages it is that everything has its season and no resistance is an admirable state. There needs to be an acceptance of finite space and time. The illusion of possession slowly opens its fist to the sweet sorrow of parting.