Eleven Margaret Atwoods.
Seventeen Jodi Picoults.
Hardcovers, purchased back when hardcovers came out months, sometimes years, before the more cost-effective soft covers; books I couldn’t wait on, books that were worth paying extra so I could read them sooner like Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Books so delicious that I can remember where I was when I read them like John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
Books read more than once like John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.
Books that changed the way I thought about life like a dog eared and worn copy of The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.
Books purchased when I was a teenager dreaming of a future as a wife and mother like Love and Laughter by Marjorie Holmes
Countless other books–both fiction and non-fiction. Treasured tomes. Old friends.
Does anyone really need that many books?
For most of my life I’ve been a hopeless bibliophile. I once joked with someone that the only reason I had a job was so I could buy books and, while that’s not completely true, a significant portion of my salary over the years has gone toward buying books. I’ve got books tucked away in my attic, books saved from my childhood and the childhood of my children. I have closets and cupboards filled with books. I have three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves overflowing with books. The answer to the question for most of my life has been yes, I do need that many books.
But there’s this retirement thing on the horizon and the inevitable downsizing that will occur. A few weeks ago Gerry and I packed up bags and boxes of books I had tucked away in the attic a few months ago and donated them to the local library. I was brave; I didn’t allow myself to look through the bags and boxes before we loaded them in the back of my car. I had identified these as ones that could be given away months ago; I dare not peek inside lest I change my mind about some of them.
This morning I started going through the books on my bookshelves and choosing even more books I am willing to part with. There are a few I don’t feel an attachment to; I’ve read them, and I’m finished with them. I lift those from the bookshelf easily and place them in the pile I started across the hall. Others I pass by quickly; they are part of me and I can’t bear to get rid of them. As the pile of books across the hall grows larger and my bookshelf emptier I feel a knot in my stomach. It’s not easy to part ways with old friends such as these.
These days I read almost exclusively on my Kindle and my relationship with these electronic books is different. Electronic books seem more disposable and I don’t usually feel the same attachment. I finish a book and delete it from my device soon afterward, though I’m comforted by the fact that it remains in the cloud somewhere I can access it again should I feel the need.
I’m not finished the task yet; this will take some time. Some books, I’m certain, will migrate from the discard pile back onto the bookshelf while others may make the reverse journey. I need time to contemplate my decisions. This is not a task that can be rushed.