The following column appeared in Sunday's, March 10, Courier-Times.
In our 60s now, Brian and I are clearly beyond the era of furnishing our home. We’re more in the stage of unfurnishing it.
In this latest round of “what we keep,” the topic is books. We’ve collected volumes all our lives. My collection began at the top of the stairs in the old Veach’s store in downtown Richmond where a rack of Little Golden Books caught my eye when shopping with Mom. I’d be permitted to pick one to buy on occasion, and more than half-a-century later, I still have those shiny-covered stories.
When Grandma Jobe was ill in the 1960s, she received a sunshine box from church friends. It contained small amusements, encouragements, and cards. I still have the slim volume of friendship-themed poetry from that box. I’ve raised my hand with that tiny book in it several times, set to discard it, but always stop short.
College books in my major seemed too important to hawk at the campus bookstore. So the texts about editing, crafting feature stories, the history of journalism, and the requisite grammar books have roomed on our shelves for thirtysomething years.
Then came the decades of novel buying, gifting, garage saling. There were Friends of the Library-sale tables that yielded recycled tomes for a quarter apiece and offered no guilt if I didn’t read them right away – or in 20 years. Then there is my double-copy problem. When I enjoy a book such as “The Shipping News,” if I find a duplicate on the cheap, I’ll pick it up for a loaner.
Brian has similar stories. He attended college a good many more years than I did for a master’s degree and certifications beyond that. He never wanted to purge his textbooks. In one noteworthy attempt, I held the volumes up and he would declare to keep or not. One book of poetry garnered his curious comment, “I hated that book. Keep it.”
So that’s how the weeding process has gone until now. We got a new sofa downstairs which inspired us to remake our upstairs bonus room. The room is where most of our books hang out and every last one of them, along with their shelving, and all manner of miscellaneous and mismatched furnishings, have to be hand-carried downstairs before our new carpeting is installed.
I’m envisioning a carefully edited library area with new shelving, a library table moved upstairs from down, and a designated family archives section where neatly organized lidded baskets will hold a family-history paper and photo trail. Should the need arise for our presidential libraries, it’s all there.
Meanwhile, we’ve given away works of Bill (Shakespeare); Uncle Walt (Cronkite’s bio), and a good number of less notable notables, including those duplicate loaner copies. Brian has decided that when it comes to our volume of volumes, less is less.
“All books do is sit there on the shelves,” he said.
“Yes, that’s what books do. It’s who they are,” I told him.
What does he expect them to do, spin, or for the non-fictions to reshelve themselves just for kicks into the middle of the photo albums? For Dad’s art books to mix it up with the novels?
So far, the tattered sofa and loveseat are gone; the new carpeting ordered, and we’re each hauling down at least one armload or large object a day, our stated minimum requirement on this project.
Then we'll reverse the process and the edited version will go back upstairs. At this rate we might be done while still in our 70s.
We’ve gone through nearly every book in the house and given each the yea or nay. No book in our collection is worth a marital spat so the criteria is simple.
1. Each of us may keep any book with no judgment from the spouse. (Rolling of the eyes is not to be within view.)
2. However, if there is no expressed desire to retain a book, and if said owner does not see himself or herself enjoyng it within the next 10 years, it’s gone.
If one person’s trash is another’s treasure, then our recycled books are someone else’s shelf problems. We wish them well.
Brian kept the poetry book because he hated it so much. Remember, I’m not allowed to judge. (Rolling eyes out of view.)
Donna Cronk is Neighbors Editor of The Courier-Times. She also edits the quarterly her magazine for women.