October is the month when I finally emerge from the hot, humid stupor of summer. Yes, I’ve heard about September; these days it comes littered with too many family death anniversaries to feel like the fresh start it once was. October is when I can breathe again.
To me, “renewal” = “project.” This year I decided to streamline my home office. That required tackling the books crammed and tumbling from the shelves.
I used to comb used bookstores, eager to add new titles to a collection already overflowing with novels and nonfiction acquired through high school, college, and law school. I was a history/English major, which meant I had an extensive library even before I merged my collection with my husband’s. Then two kids took their own journeys through reading and school, mingling their books with ours.
Does any household need three copies of Machiavelli’s The Prince? Will we ever form a family book club to read Romeo and Juliet together? We could; between the office and downstairs bookshelves, there were multiple copies of nearly every one of Shakespeare’s plays.
And there are still bookshelves in this house that I haven’t touched.
I’ve sifted through my books before. It’s always hard. How do you say goodbye to books that have accompanied you for years, books that make you recall not only their own stories but yours as well? Every book I touch brings memories of where and who I was when I first read it.
I wrote a great analysis paper about Babbitt (Sinclair Lewis) … back in high school, which is the last time I opened that book. And, sure, I devoured all my historical reference books in a quest to find the perfect phrase to use in each of the multiple papers I churned out in college. Now? Time grows short. For better or worse, I don’t see a world where I conduct a needle-in-a-haystack search through volume after volume instead of Googling exactly what I need.
Thinning my book collection was different this time. With each book I cleared, I felt lighter. Packing them all away felt less like loss and more like freedom. I am no longer the person I was when I acquired each volume. I no longer need the books to remind me of past identities and triumphs. The good stuff that came through each title is a part of me. Without the physical weight of my books, I am open to new possibilities.
I kept waiting for remorse to hit as I hauled the seventeen boxes to Goodwill. It still hasn’t come.
When I walk into my office now, my half of the bookshelves holds notes, research, and manuscripts related to current possibilities. The lack of clutter is an invitation to dig in.
My aunt, an efficient military wife able to relocate at a moment’s notice, says that when you are no longer using something, it’s time to pass it on and let someone else enjoy it. I hope my books bring someone else joy now that they’ve been liberated from my shelves.