I guess it was the start of spring that did it. One minute I was watching the morning news and the next I was scanning my bookshelves and pulling out novels and memoirs and how-to-guides and tossing them on the ground. (I made sure they landed softly—I am fanatical about not bending pages). I made three piles: one for the used bookstore, one for the Little Free Library, and one for my sister.
All in all, I am saying goodbye to about 25-30 books, which might not sound like a lot, until you realize that I only have about 80 books left. I’m a big fan of the public library, and I generally only hold onto books I want to consult, and books I really enjoyed.
If you know me well, you know already I am ridiculously picky about what books I will read. I don’t have clear rules for this pickiness—such as only-the-classics or just-literary-fiction. In fact, I have declined reading some of the most highly respected works out there because of my clearly very blurry and wobbly rule: I try the first page or two, and if I am not taken in by then, I stop. With so many books—and so many great works out there—why invest my time in something that does not enthrall me from the beginning? (The exception of course being school required reading. And yes, I have really liked some of those books that wouldn’t have made it past my two-page practice, but it’s rare, and anyway, I’m an old dog who doesn’t like new tricks.)
One of my favorite things in the world is to love a book so much I can’t wait to get back to it. But I’d been thinking lately that perhaps it was time to let some of my beloved ones go. It occurred to me that if I had not reread them in the last, say, twenty years, that I probably wouldn’t again. And wouldn’t that copy be better off with someone else, so they might get the feeling I had upon reading it?
So, this morning I shocked myself: I let go of my college copies of Anna Karenina and Emma, both of which I have reread, but not in at least a decade. But I saved my father's two poetry books by e.e. cummings—not just because they were my father's, but because how can you not swoon over this:
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
And I held onto a couple of memoirs that not only were pleasures to read, but had sentimental value: Goosetown by Joyce Dyer (my AWW memoir teacher who pounded—very nicely—the reflective voice into all her beginning students) and News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist by Laurie Hertzel (my dear friend and my go-to writing-problem-solver in my MFA program at Queens).
Despite my two-page habit, I will admit this: I picked one book—that became a favorite—based only on the epigraph. That’s it! Who picks a book to read based on an epigraph? But oh, what an epigraph it is. It’s in Vikram Seth’s novel, An Equal Music, and the title is "For Philippe Honoré" (who is, according to Google and Wikipedia, a musician and Seth's love). Here are the opening lines:
Perhaps this could have stayed unstated. / Had our words turned to other things / In the grey park, the rain abated, / Life would have quickened other strings.
The book is just as lovely. But, of course, given my need to clear some space, that didn’t mean holding onto the book. Not all stories are meant for keeping. This one’s going to the Little Free Library, where I am hoping someone will pick it up and fall into the novel and forget time and place and worry. When I think of that, it makes it easier to let it go.