Saturday, June 2, 2007


We moved into this house with way more books than we’ve ever had in one spot: books that were in storage in our Vermont house before we sold it as well as books we’ve accumulated in the three years since we lived there. And though the benefits of the open floor plan on our first floor are numerous—I can have a totally unobstructed view of Levi strangling Lilah, there are way fewer doors for me to slam when I’m angry, preparing food for the kids while they sit at the bar making requests makes me feel that much more like their slave—the downside is that we have very little wall space, which means very little room for books.

So in the last couple of weeks, rather than slapping our books onto shelves willy-nilly and buying new bookcases to supplement where we might need them, we have had to sort through our books and decide which ones we were going to hang onto. I kept trying to come up with a rule that would make my portion of the weeding easier.

Following are some of the rules I tested out:

I had to have read the book if I was going to keep it. This appealed to me at first, because a) I always felt that displaying a book I haven’t read was a lie; and b) if it’s sat unread all these years, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t sit unread forever.

But then I couldn’t part with the possibility this category of books represented, the potential, the idea that I might have time at some point in the future to dust them off and read them—like on a beach vacation WITH NO KIDS and a nice refreshing drink and a hammock—which seems so much more noble than going out and buying new books: like I’m picking up an old dog at the pound, or giving somebody a second chance.

I had to remember the book. That didn’t work because it pretty much ruled out my entire collection.

I had to have liked the book. This one seemed totally reasonable and normal and non-neurotic, which is why it was bound to fail in my case. There were so many books I really wanted that I was just proud to have read, or that reminded me of a particular time in my life—those Greek tragedies I read in high school, when I was hideously depressed and anorexic…those art history texts I read in college, when I was hideously depressed and bulimic…those novels I read the summer after Stupid Daddy dumped me because it was 3am and I couldn’t sleep because I was hideously depressed. Ah, the memories.

Then I started to think about whether the book in my hand was one my kids might one day find interesting—either because it gave them a peek at their mother's old pursuits and passions, or because they themselves felt pulled into its pages. And that was the rule of thumb that I went with.

In general, I have a hard time imagining my kids older than they are at the moment. But as I sorted, I could see Ezra as a teenager, with glasses, maybe, lying all comfortable on the couch, munching a granny smith apple and reading Great Tales of Action and Adventure, so absorbed that I had to ask him three times to come help me with dinner. Or Lilah, at twelve, sitting cross-legged in front of the bookcase, poring over my Catullus, not understanding the Latin, not caring, just reading my tiny, meticulous notes in the margins, knowing that this was her mother’s book, understanding that once upon a time, I too had been a young girl.

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