It’s hard to believe this week marks the beginning of August. On the one hand, the year has flown by; on the other, it truly feels like a lifetime has passed since the start of the new decade. I’m probably not alone in having hoped that the extra time lockdown afforded me would have been spent more productively, but now that I’m on the other side I’m wondering what I did with all the extra hours and days I had.
At the start of ‘the Rona’, I thought it would be the perfect time to declutter my house.
I made it through a few kitchen cupboards and then sat down to read. The pandemic had zapped my motivation, my intent for orderliness, my desire to be productive. After all, if we were all going to die, what’s the point of purging my house of mugs missing handles and mismatched salt and pepper shakers?
After about a month, I began, slowly, like a recovering Covid patient, to put my book down and get off the couch.
I filled dozens of boxes. Discarded sports equipment, unfashionable garden planters, a half-dozen antique picture frames I once fancied, and other bits of past lives, all got tossed into cardboard boxes. It was freeing. It was also tinged with a morsel of sorrow.
And then I turned to my books.
Culling books is a bit like going down a rabbit hole. Every book is a journey into your life. Collecting books reveals your history, a record of your movements, your tastes, and even your friends and lovers.
That stack of Norton Anthologies, their waif-thin pages smeared with suntan lotion when I took them everywhere, even to the beach, during those summer university classes. Northrup Frye and his bevy of critics, glared up at me, daring me to toss out their learned tomes. I couldn’t do it and placed them gingerly back in the bookshelf.
I ran my fingers over the Complete Works of Goethe, beautifully bound, raised gold lettering still shining. What was I thinking, dreaming I would ever learn enough German to read them? And still, their beautiful covers were enough to keep them on my shelves.
Those volumes of Greek tragedy we studied in second year? I vowed someday to return to them, saving them from the still-empty box sitting beside me.
And then, there were all the rest: classics, modern works, books gifted over the years, and all those brilliantly written books I go back to time after time. How could I part with any? So, I didn’t.
I’ve moved more times than I can count, even criss-crossing the country on three occasions, each time dropping ballast to fit into a new space. I’ve had a few mini book culls at the time, but mostly I’ve taken my books along with me. They are like old friends, always there for me, shelter in a storm, comforting and reliable. It’s not as if I’m taking them to the grave with me, but to toss them away, feels like giving up.
We keep things because they reflect us to ourselves. They place us in time. And they show who we are to others. I can trace my life through my books, remembering where I was, who was with me, and what that time was about. It may seem like nostalgia, but as long as my arms are strong enough, I’ll be hauling them with me, as the journey continues.
Until next time, happy reading!