I’ve always had a problem with books: I can’t let go of them. And that is why I found myself bawling as my husband and I began the painful process of purging my book collection.
We were moving soon, to a smaller house. And while part of me recognized the rationale of downsizing, another deeply resented having to make these choices. I had hoarded books for years. Yes, I could admit that. But as someone who loved to read and taught writing for many years, there wasn’t a single book in my collection that didn’t have great value. I knew this was going to be painful.
We had a system: he would haul in armloads of books, sometimes entire boxes, into the living room where I was grading papers. He would then hold each one up for me to pronounce a destiny over them: keep, donate, or send to Half-Price Books.
Of course, I knew that I did not need to keep four copies of the anniversary edition of The Outsiders. I had a paperback edition of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart with its well-worn pages and grad school notes, but I also had a leather, limited edition of three of his novels. How to decide which one to keep? Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White was a favorite, but was it realistic to think that I would read this 700+ page book again?
I felt like Old Mother Hubbard kicking babies out of her shoe because she could not afford to feed them. One copy of The Outsiders, Things Fall Apart with grad school notes, but The Woman in White to Half-Price Books.
At one point, my quiet sniffling became too much to control and a gaspy, almost ghoulish moan burst forth from where I huddled against the corner of the sofa, fighting to see through my tears to type feedback on student essays.
My husband dropped the books in his hands, mortified at my tears. “If it’s going to upset you this much, then just keep them!”
But, no. I had resolved to be firm, to make rational decisions, and to be brave through this process. And in the end, there were four more Rubbermaid bins overflowing with books to go to Half-Price Books. The lucky ones that had made the cut lay proudly in bundles on the shelves of the entertainment center.
I had survived The Great Book Purge.
But then I had to stare at those bins of books, those throwaway children of mine, all weekend. It seemed they were calling out to me. “Traitorous wench! Don’t send us away!”
This week, the books will be gone. And then we will go through even more that have yet to be sorted. And I’m feeling much stronger, much more certain about this process now.
Especially since I went back when David wasn’t looking and saved The Woman in White and her friend Madame Bovary from exile.