Don’t let anyone fool you. Brian is every bit as sentimental as I am. If you want proof, try getting rid of (um, I mean paring down and passing on) books of any kind.
Our book collection consumes a variety of venues throughout our home. There’s the glass-front antique secretary where choice volumes reside. There you’ll find author-signed editions, my assembly of Hoosier-themed books, special book gifts, the boys’ baby books, Sam and Allison’s wedding album.
In this household it’s hard to make the cut for inclusion behind that glass. One reason is that the books there are special and dear. Another reason, probably the main one, is there’s no more space on those shelves.
With the kids gone, our bonus room upstairs doesn’t get much action. There’s no TV there anymore, but the shelves brim as they always have. The three bookcases hold the majority of our collection, along with more than an entire row of photo albums and another row of scrapbooks. There are also school yearbooks dating to the 1960s continuing every year on through 2015, Brian’s last in education. The weight of that shelf alone may well warp the floor boards beneath it. If our house tilts a bit, that shelf is probably why.
In a corner is an antique cabinet that spent decades in Dad’s barn holding tools but then I bought it at the auction, had it refinished, and upgraded it to indoor house life.
When we moved here 19 years ago, it went upstairs to hold our third-string books. These consist of college textbooks and reading-list materials as well as a career worth of Brian’s textbooks that were “sampled” to him from publishers wanting to place their books in his classrooms and texts that he used in said classrooms, now outdated, some by a long shot.
Lately I’ve been on a mission to go through every volume and decide if we should keep it or find it another home. I need to catch Brian in just the right mood for the 15-minutes at a time that he can tolerate this evaluation process.
My method goes like this. I grab a stack of his books, some dating a full half century spent on one book shelf of his or another, and carry them downstairs. I hold each up and he tells me to keep it, get rid of it, or a third option: “That’s Steve’s.”
Yes, a news flash, just registering after 50 years of shuffling high school and college texts around: About 25 of them belong to Brian’s brother. Who knew? He will after reading this. Steve, they are coming your way. Or maybe I’ll send you photos and you can give me the yea, or nay, or maybe.
Brian has his own techniques in deciding which of his books to keep or pass on. But darned if I have any idea what they are. Two examples:
Of a college poetry anthology, Brian said, “I hated that book.” He had to do a paper on one poem in particular. All over that poem he has arrows and notes. The thing is nearly covered in blue ink. He got an F on the paper! This from a man from whom anything lower than an A or B was rare.
“Keep it,” he said, shocking me. “That’s one bad memory I want to keep.”
Another college text brought the opposite kind of memory, but proved equally retainable. “We all had to write a one-page paper in that class. He limited us to that. I blew him away. I got an A. Keep it.”
I’m the same, in my own way. There’s an oversized, tattered Mary Poppins movie storybook. Mary Poppins was the first movie I ever went to the movies to see. Mom and I went to a theater in downtown Richmond. I was enchanted.
I carried tomato soup and bacon sandwiches in a Mary Poppins lunch box all through elementary school. That tin is now in our attic where it holds every high school corsage I ever received. There weren’t that many.
For now, I’m keeping the picture book, the lunch box, and the corsages. Next question.
Today I’m scooping up a stack of mostly textbooks we are parting ways with and handing them off to the library for a future Friends book sale. My thought is the Friends probably don’t want them either, but it seems unkind, somehow, and certainly not green, to just toss them.
I suppose there’s a proper or a trendy technique for disposing of old textbooks and displaced volumes. Someone may email me and say “You should have contacted the (this) or packaged them up and mailed them to the (that).” But instead, I’m palming them off to the Friends for evaluation and disposal. I’m wretched.
As the aging process continues, for the books and for us, there will be more volumes and other things to part ways with. I’m noticing that with aging comes decreasing our belongings and the space we consume in this world a little at a time.
I often think of the lady who attended one of my “bucket list” programs. When asked what’s on the group members’ bucket lists, she provided the most curious answer I’ve heard from the hundreds who have participated in the exercise. She said, “To leave this world with no more than one bag of possessions.”
What would be in your bag? One thing that won’t be in mine is that poetry book of Brian’s with the bad memory attached to it. But I do see his point.
Sometimes a bad memory points to the fact that we work hard, do what we can, and still fail. But survive it we do, then press on.
Sometimes these old, unwanted books still provide lessons.
Talk to me: How do you manage your book collection?