I did something yesterday that I absolutely hate: I said goodbye to old friends.
I had been building up to it for a while, trying to prepare myself emotionally. Over several days I had gone through and caressed all of them, trying to decide which I would keep and which would be gone from my home. Finally, I decided I was ready.
Light tan bankers box, emptied of hanging file folders containing remnants of two semesters of my graduate school career. (Which I saved. Never know when I might need, for instance, my notes from a family theory course from the early 2000s.) Okay, I said to myself, only what will fit in this box. Any that do not fit in the box will go back on the shelf.
I had made a stack, a tall tower on the floor that reached up to counter height. A few were books that had been given to me as gifts, but that turned out to be not my cup of tea. Two taboos broken here: never say goodbye to a book and never return a gift. Yet those went in the bankers box fairly easily. A few were books that I had bought, tried several times to read, but never managed to finish. (One, We Who Are Dark, I put back on the shelf. Didn’t I just read a review of that book that brought up an interesting aspect that I had not considered? Maybe it was worth a third try.) These, too, went from the tower to the box.
There were three titles making up the tower that were duplicates of ones still on my shelves. I don’t know why I kept these multiple copies. Perhaps I thought I might one day open up my own book store? The Women of Brewster Place and John Henry Days duplicates went in the box. I imagine some bored teenager who had just seen the film version picking up my copy of Gloria Naylor’s first novel and becoming transformed. I imagine someone in the bookstore searching the fiction section looking for a book by some author whose last name starts with W—Richard Wright, maybe, or Thomas Wolfe—not finding it, but happening upon my copy of Colson Whitehead’s book and deciding to give it a go….
But I put the Breaking Ice anthology duplicate back on the shelf. That copy was one I had bought when it first came out. Around the same time I had just begun dating the now-spouse. He had given me a copy of the book too, which he had signed and wrote a very nice note on the inside cover. For years the two copies sat on my shelf: the one that I bought and the one that I had been given. Without both red spines on my shelf, how would I remember the story behind them, the story of one of the earliest and most meaningful romantic gestures from the man I love?
Several Patricia Cornwell books from her Scarpetta series went in the box. As much as I love the doctor’s hunt for clues from the dead, I consume the books like cotton candy and there is no reason to hold onto them after I have read them. Plus, I figured they are ever popular and should fetch a high price as the sell-back counter. The three José Saramago books I own owned went in the box. Blindness had been my first and favorite. It disquieted me for days after I finished the last sentence. I experience mind tremors still, today, when I think of it. I have avoided the movie version because I love so dearly that feeling I got from the book and fear that the movie will be a huge let down. If I were filming that movie I’d just have audio and a white screen. I’m guessing that’s not what the actual movie’s director did.
The book and its siblings (The Cave and The Double) went in the box. Someone else should get the chance to love them.
A Mercy went in the box. Then out of the box. Then back in the box. Now it sits on my bedside table. My promise to Ms. Morrison is that I either re-read the book within the next two months, or I give the book away to someone else to read and enjoy. I additionally promise to do a review on this blog of the novel, based on my second reading of it. I will have to have the book in order to re-read and blog it, right? So I guess you could say the bankers box, then, was A Mercy-less.
None of my textbooks went in the box. Not a one. On the spot I made up a rule that only in the process of major residential moves will I say goodbye to textbooks. My last big move I got rid of dozens. It is not yet time to get rid of more. Not sure why this decision was elevated to “rule status,” but I am comfortable with it. It has a ring of seriousness and formality about it. It stands.
In the end, that still left a very full bankers box of books. There were a couple of odd gaps left in the box, so I stuffed a couple of pulp paperbacks in the spaces. The box was heavy. That is as it should be. Before anyone gets rid of a shelf full of books, she should feel the literal weight of such a serious decision. It should be a little painful. The cardboard cutout handles of the bankers box should bore into her fingers, leaving a reddish mark for the next 40 minutes. She should get a back spasm from lifting the boxed books into and out of the passenger car seat. Her thighs should ache from where the box repeatedly bumped them on the long walk from the parking lot to the store.
My daughters went with me to say goodbye to my books. They were fascinated by the new (to them) process. Their reaction reminded me how infrequently I do this kind of purging, and I promised myself to do it more. Maybe…one book out for every two books in? Something like that. Maybe keep a fresh, empty bankers box in the junk room or in my home office labeled with thick black permanent marker “TO BE SOLD”? Maybe.
My daughters assumed we were going to be wealthy from the sale. I think they were imagining riches like those that awaited Alladin in the cave. They excitedly pulled my jacket sleeve when they heard the bookstore clerk call my name over the loudspeaker, indicating he was ready to give me my offer after inspecting my collection of volumes. Calm down, I said to my daughters. I’m guessing it will only be about $20.00.
At the counter the clerk gave me the verdict: $25.00.
Before I even left the store I saw my copy of The Scarpetta Factor on the shelf in the new titles section. I had to restrain myself from buying the book back. The three of us bought books that totaled a little over $7.00. I left the store, then, with almost 18 extra dollars and two new, lovingly used books. And, I guess, I also left the store with the satisfaction of knowing that now others will now get to experience the joy of discovering books that once sat on my shelves.
And an empty bankers box.