You know me–the kid who always had her nose in a book. Who grew up to be a bibliomaniac, with bookshelves in every room of the house, stacks of books everywhere that would not fit on the shelves, twenty-something boxes of books that were carted around from house to house, to wait in the attic or the garage for the day when there would finally be enough room to display them all.
John and I joked about our book addiction, which sent us to McKay’s Used Bookstore to get rid of books only to come home with more than we took, that drove us to carry home armloads from the monthly church book swap, that tempted me into joining book club upon book club. And we were proud of our collections–the books about the English language and about Knoxville and the classics in the living room on the best shelf, my treasured Eloise Wilkin picture books that I kept on the shelf in the closet in my bedroom to make sure they were safe, the box of lovingly accumulated–one Christmas Eve after another– Christmas books in the garage.
We thought it said something about us, these books that people could see when they visited our home. I always peruse other people’s bookcases when I visit, looking for clues to what is important to them, to what they enjoy, to what kind of people they are. We were the people with lots of books.
From our basement I salvaged some homeschooling books and some of my collections: Pay Conroy, Anne Tyler, Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Andrew Greeley, Diana Gabaldon, as well as John’s Star Trek book collection. I don’t know if I’ve really saved them or if I will just be throwing them away later. Can I get the soot off? Can I get the smell out? Do I want to cling to them enough to put up with the lingering smell of fire? I don’t know yet. They are in a 5 X 5 storage space. [Update: They now live in our garage. I clean them one at a time, whenever I want to read one.]
Pictured below is my 1980 set of Encyclopedia Brittanica which I received when I won the Regional Spelling Bee. I’m letting them go, but it’s hard. I’m also saying good-bye to the 1976 Wester’s Third New International Dictionary, which has pressed flowers from my grandfather’s funeral, provided pronunciations for thousands of word from Words of the Champions, settled countless arguments in the years since. It was on the bottom shelf and those books are covered in debris.
It may sound like a crazy thing to ask, but I really am struggling with this question: If I am not the person with all the books, who am I? Who am I without my stuff?
September 14, 2011