Fahrenheit 451


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?

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  1. Helga says:

    Leslie,
    My son is just like you. I calls his books his “kids”, even though he has 3 very lively children. He is going into the mission field overseas to central Asia next month and he and his family had to get rid of everything (except what could fit into about 15 suitcases). It was so hard for him to get rid of his “kids”, but he invested in a Kindle, and now he loves it! He can take as many books as he wants with him on their new adventure and he loves it! I am not saying that this is the solution for you, but just a thought.

    • lesliesholly says:

      I would never have considered such a thing before. I love books, not just reading them, but having them on shelves, holding them in my hands, the whole book experience. Plus the memories that came with many of the copies I had–books that were my grandmother’s, or were mine from childhood. However, they are gone now. We have been dramatically downsized, albeit inadvertently, so we may–probably will–live our lives differently now.

  2. Anne says:

    Sissy, it is not a crazy question at all; it is an understandable one given the circumstances. But here is my answer to it. You are a product of all your memories and experiences, as well as of the things you love and the people who have loved you. No one who knows you well or cares about you could ever think of you and not have a sense of everything that is you, including that you have been and are an ultra-literate and nostalgic someone who loves to read, who loves books in general, special books in particular, and books that are connected to certain memories especially. There are people who see no importance in things they aren’t using, and then there is you, who collected all those books, who went to great lengths to keep them, who was comforted that all those wonderful books were somewhere you could get to them, even if it meant they stayed hidden in the attic untouched for periods of time. That is who you are, and one of the reasons why this experience is extra tragic for you. But believe me and trust this– the people who love you know who you are, and you are still the person with all the books.

  3. Rachel says:

    I’m so sorry. I would feel the same way; I’m also the girl who loves books/ bookstores/ perusing people’s shelves.
    It’s hard to be philosophical sometimes, but when I read your post I felt like I just feel the new space emanating around you, and that it’s clear and vibrant and open, and that it should be embraced. The stories held in those lost pages are stories that have helped to shape you, and your actions, which will live on beyond the soot and water.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Lesli, once you are settled, I would love to donate as many books to you as you would like!! Just say when.

  5. Beth says:

    Some friends in college told me that if my (now) husband, then boyfriend and I ever got married we’d have to have a library in our house we both had so many books. I will be sending a totally impractical, yet to me, totally necessary card in the mail. (address from mamapundit’s blog). Which Star Trek does he read? Traditional, Next Gen, gasp Voyager?

    • lesliesholly says:

      SO SWEET, Beth!! Yes, books are essential. I have been feeling absolutely lost without mine. I usually am carrying around one with me everywhere. I usually read one every day or two, and it has now been over three weeks. John reads TOS primarily, although he has read a few of STNG. We stopped really watching televison around then so never really got into the net ones. I should write a sad post one day about all the Trek memorabilia that was lost, including over 25 years of calendars. 🙁 Thanks again!

  6. Beth says:

    oh no, I don’t know if I could stomach reading about the loss of memorabilia it’s so hard reading about your loss as it is.

  7. Whitney says:

    O my goodness, we loooooove Mckay’s!!! We’ve been to the one in Chattanooga and Knoxville. I’ve bought so many great condition children’s books through them! I just got so excited to find a fellow Mckay’s lover!

  8. I think with a natural disaster, I might also feel the loss of my books the most! When you spend so much time devoted to something, it is going to hurt when it is gone! But the best thing about books is that there are always more. Now you can have all the fun of finding your favorites again. Thanks for linking to Quote Me Thursday! I always enjoy reading your posts!

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