To begin, I am decluttering. I figure it is easier to deep clean with less stuff in a room. I also do not do things halfway.
Zen house, here I come.
Now things get complicated. I am determined to keep as much as possible out of the landfill. So, we have boxes for recycling. We have boxes for Goodwill. We have boxes of baby things to be passed on to those with babies. Slowly the mess has begun to subside and I can begin to breathe again.
Our hallway is clear. The living room now takes only two minutes to clean at the end of the day. The children are resigned to tidying up their own rooms, and I luxuriate in a cup of tea before bedtime, in the twenty minutes that used to be dedicated to daily pick-up.
Friends, I can avoid the books no longer.
Oh, the books.
I have so many. They line shelves in our living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, upstairs, downstairs. There is a stack on my desk and a stack by my bed. My husband cannot understand why it is so hard for me to let go when I pitched things from every other part of the house with determination and glee. I’ve read them all already. They are collecting dust. I’ve not opened many of them in months, years. Why not cast them out?
They are old friends. They are pages in my book. They are bricks in my foundation. Some I have seen every day that I can remember, are such a part of my surroundings that I dread the hole they will leave in my life. A great quantity of them belonged to my father; now that my father is gone, they are my anchors, my conscience. I can see, in my mind’s eye, my father reading this very edition of the Tao te Ching. These are his notes in Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. His dog-eared copy of Catch-22. In this overstuffed binder we have every short story, almost, of J.D. Salinger, that my father sought out and photocopied, from the library archive copies of the magazines that originally published them.
Then there are my copies of the Trixie Belden series, my favorites from middle-schoolhood. I am waiting for my three-year-old to hurry up and learn to read so she can enjoy them as much as I did. (My boys find Trixie to be too girly.) All the Ramonas and Henry Huggins and Bunniculas, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Choose Your Own Adventures. I know my kids have their own, newer copies, but I love having the very books I read as a child, my name scrawled inside the front cover.
Not to mention the complete works of: Thomas Hardy. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. F Scott Fitzgerald. Doestoevsky. Salinger, in multiple editions and languages. Austen. Bradbury. It goes on and on.
Oh, my gosh. The Alice in Wonderland books. Jabberwocky. Different editions, different illustrators. Biographies of Lewis Carroll. Coffee-table books of his photography. Scholarly interpretations. Jigsaw books and pop-ups.
My children’s books. Board books that my oldest passed down to his brother, who in turn bestowed onto his sister.
This is my heart on display- yes, in my living room, in my bedroom, in my kids’ rooms, in my kitchen, upstairs, downstairs, waiting to be seen, opened, loved.
Sometimes enough is enough.
Perhaps rather than giving my children the gift of me as a child, trapped in aging, yellowing, dusty pages, perhaps give the gift of me now.
So I am weeding my book garden. Early childhood parenting books were easy enough to let go of; my youngest is a preschooler now, although we still call her the baby. I passed them and the board books for the littlest readers onto a friend blessed with a newborn. I posted all my Gaimans and Pratchetts on Half.com at 99 cents apiece; these were happily snatched up by fellow sci-fi and fantasy geeks, and I am happy to ship them out to be enjoyed. My classics, I reason, are available at the library, and so I drove them off to Goodwill today. (I am still sitting on my beautiful Everyman’s Library editions. Some things take time.)
Now I am left with the books that are a very real part of me, and it hurts. Every time a Lewis Carroll or a Salinger sells, I gamely pack it up, but something deep inside whispers, “There must be a better way!” But I know I do not really need twenty copies of Through the Looking Glass, or even five copies of Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters, and we need the money, and I tell myself I am sending it off to start a new life. This grieving process allows me to revisit myself at an earlier time, to remember who I was, to remember my father, to take this bits and pieces of who we were, what makes us good, and send it out into the world. Hopefully, in some ridiculously small and trite way, I make it a better place.
I think I am writing to preserve these parts of me. To physically take stock of who I once was and what aspects of that person I want to include in how I see myself today. To help me assess my present self. To find room to breathe.
There is a quote swimming around in my mind, but I cannot for the life of me recall where I read it. I’ll post it nonetheless, as closely as I remember it, and when I find its source I will post that as well.
To own more books than one can perchance read, is nothing less than the soul aspiring to greatness.