by Tracy Barrett
I’m a bit hesitant to post this because people are passionate about the topic and I’m afraid I’ll have to duck. No, the topic isn’t politics. It’s not religion or the Second Amendment or the right of this person to marry that one.
It’s about getting rid of books. And I know that the mere concept of “getting rid of” something as holy as a book will cause many to shudder.
I’m facing a huge new beginning this year. We’re planning to move from the house where we’ve lived for more than twenty years to one in a quieter neighborhood, now that we no longer need to be near my day job or in the zone of the elementary school we wanted our kids to go to. In preparation we’ve been going through decades of stuff, filling our trash cans to overflowing each week and making multiple trips to Goodwill.
Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of storage space, so we haven’t been able to hoard as much as one of us would like, but something we have in abundance is books.
For me, a book on a shelf is a corpse. If it hasn’t been read for decades and probably will never be read again, it might as well no longer exist. I write my books so that they will be read, and I want to honor the authors I love by keeping their writing alive. Rather than putting those books in a box and moving them and putting them on new shelves, never to be opened again, I’m taking them to the library to be sold to someone who will resuscitate them by reading them. (The fact that the sale will benefit the library is another plus.)
Only a few dozen books have gone. Our shelves still hold many that I’ll reread, as well as the ones I use for research and the ones I’ve had autographed at conferences. I’ve also kept a few with specific sentimental value: they remind me of myself at an earlier age or the person who wrote them or the person who gave them to me. “I’ve had it forever” isn’t enough; to me, that equates to keeping a book on life support.
Anne Fadiman divides book-lovers into two camps in her essay “Never Do That to a Book” (in Ex Libris): Platonic lovers, for whom “a book’s physical self was sacrosanct . . . , its form inseparable from its content” and carnal lovers, in which group she includes her family, for whom “a book’s words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were but a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as pragmatism and desire dictated. Hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy.” Count me in, Fadimans.