As I clean out my library, I find myself selecting what to discard mostly based on my daughter’s mind rather than my own. I read Sarah Dunant once, it was interesting, I don’t recall it blowing me away. Looking at the titles I have, I find myself wanting to keep hardbacks and the Sarah Dunant copies I have are clean, pretty, and one is a hardback. If I purchased them, which I doubt, it was most likely out of a clearance pile somewhere. At most I imagine I spent 50 cents or a dollar.
But that is not why I find myself stacking them in the donate to the library pile. Instead, it is because I find myself thinking – “Is this necessary? Does she need this? Even if it wasn’t necessary, is it important?” There are scenes in which I’d rather not my child’s brain be muddled with unless it belongs to something epic or beautiful. Sexual content, murderous content, without a larger than life literary lesson or great impact on the worldview seems so wasteful.
I sit here with William Kennedy’s Ironweed. It is a Pulitzer prize winner. It is the copy I was handed in high school by a teacher who found I had read everything else on the required reading list and then some. It’s brilliant, I don’t contest that. But I remember being appalled and annoyed by it. I remember thinking, “Reading this is not going to make me a better person in any way – AND I’m not particularly enjoying it either.” The book hoarder in me kept it because it was something I read in high school for class. I kept it because it was a Pulitzer prize winner. I kept it under the assumption that maybe I missed something and it was important.
The mother in me finds myself putting it in the library donate pile. If she wants to read it later, she can check it out at the library – but I only want to keep things in my house that I can either recommend or things that I, myself, haven’t read yet either. If I’m going to push crass, horrible people in horrible circumstances onto my daughter, I’ll give her Steinbeck – not Kennedy. If she needs to read about prostitution, I’d rather give her Moll Flanders and Les Miserables than Slammerskin. Not to be a chronological snob, I’m just as quick to recommend Girl, Interrupted as a cautionary tale against promiscuity or The Glass Castle and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn concerning the woes and hardships of being low on the socio-economic bean pole.
Most of what is going in the bags are things I find myself with multiple copies of for some inexplicable reason. James Herriot’s books seem to breed in my house, much like plastic bags from the grocery store do in your pantry. I swear I only brought home one, but there are three copies of All Things Wise and Wonderful. Even more perplexing is the fact that I have yet to read anything he wrote.
There are piles of Anita Shreve books. I’ve also never read an Anita Shreve title. I find the covers used to market her work exceptionally dull. When I shelved fiction at the bookstore, I cringed whenever I opened a box to find them peering up at me. Yet, I have copies of these books in my own home. They never sell, they are in abundance at the library, I find myself walking home with freebies from various places often. Again, thinking, ‘what if I become terminally ill and somehow run out of reading material.’
Book hoarder recovery 101: If you aren’t going to read it healthy, don’t anticipate reading it when ill. Also, someone will probably be willing to go to the library for you should the need arise.
This is hard for me. Then, of course, I think – is Anita Shreve important or a past time? And if she’s a past time, that is fine, but do I need so many past times lurking in my space? There comes a point when you are surrounded by so many options, you can no longer choose. It is too overwhelming and you find yourself at a hole in the wall public library that has fewer options than your own house, just to narrow the selection field. Maybe one day I’ll read Anita Shreve. Maybe I’ll love her. Maybe she’s amazing. But for now, she’s going in the donate bag.
Yet, I have hardbacks of John Grisham I can’t bring myself to let go. My twelve year old self still riveted by such drama. I could argue that it is because many of them are first edition hardbacks, but then there are my paperback coffee house and tea house mysteries that stay on the ready for a good bubble bath or morning on the back porch. Can’t let those go – yet.
How do you sort your keepers from your donates?