I vaguely remember the conversation that prompted it. My father discovered I liked reading classic novels, and even preferred them to the Sweet Valley High books I’d torn through until I could not stand any further comparison between Jessica and her “chocolate brown walls” or Elizabeth’s ponytail and lip gloss.
He began bringing books home for me. Discards from the library at the high school where he taught. Books from flea markets. Stacks of them, from everywhere. I thought he was getting them free and only later found out that no, he paid for rather a lot of them. In fact my most cherished book – a complete collection of the poetry of Carl Sandburg – was gift from him. It seemed like as soon as I read them, he brought four more. A good chunk of my book collection in high school I didn’t read until my 20s. Some I still haven’t read. Once Dad began accumulating for me, he never stopped. Once, when I got into college and mentioned casually I was struggling with writer’s block on an assignment, he greeted me on our next holiday visit with three books designed to overcome writer’s block. I still haven’t read them, in truth. I could never ever talk to my father about boyfriend troubles or the conditions of his household that drove me away, but when it came to writing and keeping working he paid attention with acute detail. He was simply thrilled to finally have something in common with me.
I’m not sure when I began doing it to myself. Hoarding books from library stacks, surfing book sales, even overcharging my credit card for five books at a time at Barnes and Noble. But the evidence was there, my home overstuffed with bookshelves. When I went to meet with a professor in his home, he had to move bookshelves to let us in – his extended out onto his three season porch. I realized that there was no way the man could be regularly accessing and using all those books. My ex had the same reaction that I did to his proposals we buy a wooden Indian for our living room. “No…just…NO.”
The books may have been a point of pride, but after my divorce I recognized their burden. They were the heaviest moving boxes, the ones that took the longest to pack, the ones I paused over, cringed over, cried over. Forget the Waterford crystal and other heirloomish things foisted upon me unwilling. My heart was in the books.
Recent years of fighting to swim upstream in the world with the weight of my belongings tugging at my neck have caused me to rethink who I am, and rethink the place of books in my self-concept. I still have books, quite a lot. But I need them less and less. I’m actually quietly phasing out any book I would not reread, and that’s rather a lot of them. Some I’ve even torn up and used in decoupage, marking up boxes I intend to use for shipping so they’re at least nominally “packaged” in the way many of my perfume clients like to demand. ((Just because I client “demands” doesn’t mean I do. In fact demanding something is one way to get me to dump a transaction. Your happiness is important to me, and my happiness is way more important to me.)) I’ve also noticed more people televised and in real life who are burdened, even restricted, by their stuff. Books weigh heavy among them.
I can be smart and geeky and maybe even someday only own one bookshelf. Besides, I have an awesome computer and the Nook doesn’t look so bad.