It has been a strange day.
I have spent the majority of today at my computer, nose in an Excel spreadsheet, typing in most of the books I own. I have decided to purge. To stop coveting things, in particular books. I want to sell them, perhaps. Donate the rest.
"You will not read that book again, Angie. Let it go." I chastise myself.
But it is hard to let it go. These books have been with me for years. I remember leaving Tucson after five years there, and packing my little Honda CRX with all my belongings. I donated most of my clothes but a travel backpack. My guitar. A boom box with a book of CDs. My lucky pillow, and the rest of the car was books. I even forgot my box of kitchen items, including a well-seasoned wok. It has been an interesting journey through my books. Mostly, I remember where I got each book. I have been pleasantly surprised and self-impressed at the amount of them I have actually finished. That usually involved me holding a book I maybe only read a few pages into and asking myself, "Should I save this to actually read?" There were remarkably few I hadn't read, and none that I felt moved to now read. It did occur to me that I couldn't remember which Kundera book was which, just that I read them, and it involved him having sex. At one point in my life, I made it a point to read them all, because I was moved by his writing. I just don't really remember them anymore. It reminded me of that Woody Allen joke about taking a speed reading course. "I read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It's about Russia."
I have always wanted to be surrounded by books. I love the look of them, the smell of them. I like them stacked on desks, or alphabetized on shelves. I always imagined my home having the library my house growing up lacked -- a gigantic comfty chair and ottoman, and a place to put my coffee. From what I could tell, my father read three books my entire childhood: The Old Man and the Sea, Chuck Yeager's Autobiography and Lee Iacocca's autobiography. They sat next to the bed for most of my childhood under his carton of cigarettes. I think my mother read. I know she reads now, voraciously, but then, I don't remember. I have absolutely no memory of either of my parent's reading me any book. I never sat on their lap to hear a story, or they never sat on my bed and read us to sleep. They said, "Time for bed. Good night." And went back to whatever they were doing. I think now about our night routine with the three books, and long fairy tales, myth or folktale read to sleep. It isn't a mystery that you give your child that which you lacked.
No matter the psychological reason I have gotten to this place of owning 500+ books, the library situation in our house is not really working. We need an art studio and office. We currently do crafts and art on the dining table, and in the rush of dinner and meltdowns, our paints get pushed to one side of the table while we eat around paint splatters. It isn't working for anyone. These books sit there in prime studio space and mock us. "We looooove your space. Sure, we do nothing but make you sneeze, and we couldn't care less, Philistine."
I also am nesting.
I just want everything to look Scandanavian in here. Sparse. Organized. Less clutter in my periferal vision. I have always bought a book instead of rented it, or borrowed it. I don't like the pressure of having to finish something. And I admit I sort of resent being given books to read. When I am on an Icelandic literature kick, I cannot estimate when I will be in the mood for a book about Chinese foot-binding. It has worked for me, the buying book thing. Some books, I noted today when I was typing the title into my database, I have lent out a dozen times. Some I have reread through the years, and others have highlighting in them, and notes in the margins from university. I found love letters, old bookmarks, photographs, flowers from my high school boyfriend, even a card from my husband written in the first weeks of us dating. He called me "babycakes."
I think the hardest part of today was finding the book Comfort by Ann Hood. I read that this year, after Lucy died. And I picked it up to read the introduction, which was so incredibly powerful, I was moved again to tears, gripped with the feelings I had right after Lucy died. The prologue of the book is the first thing the author wrote after her five-year old died. I think it was three months after her daughter's death. And when I read her book, I was about three months since Lucy died. Let's just say, I could relate, but it also terrified me. I was processing the death of a daughter that I had never seen run, or play, or take a bath, or squirming up on my lap, and this book was about a five-year old girl. When I read Comfort, I didn't relate it much to Lucy beyond the prologue. I thought of Beatrice. Losing her, living without her. I felt small and vulnerable. The world felt dark and crueler than before I read the book. And I grew scared at the ways in which my life could be devastated even more than it already was.
My life itself reads like a series of distinctly different novels, and stacking my books is the same. What would you discern about someone by their books? I have an inordinate amount of books about boxing and viruses. About Nixon and the politics of the sixties. I have entire collections of authors, like Jeanette Winterson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ana Castillo and W. Somerset Maugham. I have books about Books of the Bible, about Nation of Islam and Muslim women writers, about Buddhism and Taoism and Atheism and sexism and classism and marionette-making. I have six translations of the Bible, even one in Greek, three Qurans and countless other sacred texts. I have travel books about New Zealand and Central America, and Mexico and Texas and India. And this year I collected books about grief. About surviving the loss of your child. I have books about explaining death to children, and explaining death to yourself. I have a baby name book with the cover torn out of it where Lucy's possible names were written. I have memoirs of surviving avalanches, child death, drug addiction, alcoholism and natural disaster. I have books about vampires and child wizards and artists whose sole purpose on my shelf was to distract me.
Now, I have a list of books I once read. I have a list of lifetimes I have lived and moods I experienced and changes in my being. As I pull all the essential bits of each of these lives into one spreadsheet, the boxes of books cease weighing me down reminding me of who I was, but this list is simply who I have become.