Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Books that Sing

George Lucas' library - I could live here

When we decided to move across the country last year from San Diego, California all the way to Lexington Park, MD, I decided to start shedding my extra crap.

This act of 'shedding' became an ongoing thing.  As I got rid of crap, I started getting more and more ruthless with my posessions.  I started donating/tossing/recycling everything I could possibly get rid of.

It's amazingly FREEING, the feeling of tossing and FORCIBLY EVICTING crap from your life.  Even down to oven mitts with holes in them or holiday decor made by your PRECIOUS SNOWFLAKE CHILD that has macaroni on it that is rotten and disgusting.  I started saving only the very best of everything, from glassware and baking dishes to Mike's school work.  [I simply didn't need every damned thing he had ever doodled on - it was bordering on hoarding and he told me THAT'S CREEPY MOM.  (I even had some of his baby teeth.  Don't laugh, you do it too.  I threw them away.  dis. gus. ting.)]

I decided, during that time, that 'good enough' (with regards to towels / bakeware/drinking glasses) was no longer OK for me.  Chipped, cracked, frayed, stained... all of that was GONE.  I no longer have toddlers/kids who spill and drop and break.  I am no longer SUFFERING for money, although we are desperately paying off IRS debt and other etc. debt, it isn't the same as when Mike was little and I had to buy his xmas presents at the 99-cent store.  I made the grand decision that while I (sadly) cannot log onto Crate & Barrel and just order everything I ever wanted, I DID have the option of walking into a Target or a Kohls and replacing things, a little at a time, with new, FUNCTIONAL, and worth-the-space items. 

I am done with two things relating to stuff: 

1:  Having more of it than I need.
2:  Having stuff that is actually crap.

This extended to my bookshelves.  One of the first things I did was grab my high school yearbooks.  I THREW THEM AWAY.  Jeebus, I am 52 years old, I don't even remember more than 2 of the names of the people who signed them.  I hated high school.  Those things were from 1977 through '79 - they were heavy.  It was stupid that I had moved them for the last (counting on fingers) 34 years.  Into the recycling they went, and MAN that was the beginning of being free of the tyranny of STUFF!

I gathered all of my ceramic stuff from the 20's, 30's and 40's and posted a picture of it all on facebook, and said first come, first served.  *blink* it was spoken for and gone.

I did the same thing with tons of other collectibles.  I saved a few that actually meant something to me, stuff I really liked, and got rid of the rest.  Some I gave away, some I sold to an antique store (for a HUGE loss, that stuff isn't worth even half of what I spent on it anymore).

THEN?  I started on my books.  I had gabillions of books.  Mike did too.

This is an OLD pic of Mike, he is about 13? here  Behind him are just two of the bookcases in my condo in SD.  There were boxes under my bed, several in my closets, books in the shelves in the living room, and the above adorable GEEK had 3 bookcases so full in his room they were sagging.  (We are an indoor bookish clan, pale and unused to the sunlight...)  Those books were 30 years old in some cases (Stephen King or my year books even) and I know I have gone over this before, but... 

The books you can buy at Barnes & Nobel are not made with anything near the best, top-notch ingredients.  Random House is not going to waste good quality paper, the best glue, on a $15 book (that I ultimately paid $5 for because I am a Bargain Shopper).  The paper, the glue, it rots.  It collects dust.  It DECAYS.  That is one of the things you are smelling in an old person's home.  That lovely miasma of decaying glue and paper and bug poop.  "Book Worm" - an actual insect that eats its way through book bindings and glue.  Bugs love old, decaying books.

Yes, I used to take all my books off the shelves, dust the shelves, vacuum the books, put them back - it was a Spring Cleaning CHORE.  Did you know that libraries are supposed to be temperature and humidity controlled?  Books were once bound in leather, which is what made them so costly and so precious to people.  Leather needs conditioning.  Ball players condition mitts, owners of leather books have to take care of the books.  It was/is a HUGE responsibility.  Books were very costly.  (Think of large English estates in those romance novels, they always had a library!)   That's one of the reasons books have traditionally been held onto for dear life.  They seemed irreplaceable, because essentially they were.  It was like owning heirloom crystal, you kept it in a safe place, only brought it out once in a while and then passed it on to your descendants.  Owning several books, or even *gasp* a large library was an upper-class thing.  For a long time, only the church had extensive libraries.  If you owned books, you took them with you everywhere.

Think of how many stories you have heard of wherein someone leaves their library to a college or university?  Someone who was interested in botany, or antiquities - they collected and amassed a huge inventory of books on the subject, and then left the entire lot to a private library.  Books were a BIG DEAL, is what I'm saying.

I was raised in an era that still held books as cherished heirlooms, even the cardboard and cloth covered ones.  You simply treated your books like treasures, and we were taught that from childhood.  I never, ever, got rid of any book, ever.  This mindset, which has not kept pace with REALITY, has created problems for lots of people.  The reality is, in the last ~150 years progress and innovation have happily made books available to everyone, every class, every income level.  They are cheaply made, but also inexpensive to acquire.  Great, because BOOKS FOR EVERYONE!  I love to read, love it.  Bad, because see above re: dust, decay, bugs, stench.  Books are now like TVs, microwaves, computers.  They are REPLACEABLE.  Unless it is a copy of 'Pat The Bunny' signed by a favorite aunt, you can recycle the old one and buy a new one.  It's sanitary and smart.  People of my parent's generation cannot fathom throwing out/recycling a microwave or TV.  They hang on to them - this is one of the facets of hoarding.  That shit is WORTHLESS, let. it. go.

I bought myself a Nook and I love it.  I love that I can download any book, at any time, and *bam* I can read it right there.  I love that my Nook holds so many books, and all I have to take onto the plane or wherever is that little electronic device.  I love that thing!

But I found myself missing books.  I miss the comfort of book cases.  I miss seeing them around me.  I miss the GOOD smell of books, like when you walk into a book store and that is just perfume to me. 

I had kept a few books that I absolutely loved.  Books I swiped from my dad's library, or books I acquired over the years.  But I parted with SO MANY.  My copy of Jane Eyre in particular was heartbreaking to toss out, but it was a crap copy and falling apart, and what the hell, I knew I would someday replace it.  But, I did keep a few:
Polly-Anna! Alice in Wonderland! Salinger!     
            Wodehouse!  Thurber!

So, long story as long as possible:  I started chucking books.  CHUCKING THEM.  Paper backs all went in recycling.  ALL OF THEM.  Mike and I together, we recyled about 10 medium sized boxes packed as full as possible of paperback books.  I didn't take them to a thrift store or the VA because, two things:  The VA said 'no, thank you'.  And thrift stores said 'no, thank you'.  NOBODY WANTS THEM.  So we recycled them into new books, essentially.  The hardcovers, yes.  We took at least 15 full, heavy (hi, Mike!) boxes of hardcover books to the independant thrift store, but we had to do it like Book Ninjas.  At night, under cover of darkness, we had to sneak the boxes onto the loading dock at the store.  They DIDN'T WANT THE HADCOVER BOOKS EITHER.  But I couldn't toss them, I just wasn't mentally able to do that.

But listen to me - nobody wants your old books.  They are worthless.  Think old CRT computer screens or TVs.  If you love a STORY, then the book is replaceable.  If you have a specific memory attached to a specific book, like I do with my Alice in Wonderland book, then it's worth keeping.  But like that sad ragged copy of Jane Eyre - I love the story (with my whole heart!!) but needed to replace the actual book.

So, just the other day, I decided it was time to ADD to my home, even while I am still in the midst of shedding and downsizing and tossing.  I bought two new books!  I bought two gorgeous, leather covered, excellently bound books.

Jane Eyre!  I love you so...
From the Ebay seller:  "The spine is ribbed and the page edges are gilded in 22k gold, as is the design on the boards and the title on the spine. The book has moire endpages and a satin page marker."

James Thurber! (one of the funniest authors I've ever read)

From the Ebay seller:  This book is part of the limited edition series published exclusively for subscribers to "The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature". Book is in excellent condition, brown leather binding with ornate 22kt gold design on front and back cover as well as lettering and design on hubbed spines, gold gilt page edges, silk moire endpages and matching satin bound in page markers.

The cost for these books?  About $40 each, including shipping.  FORTY DOLLARS.  That is so inexpensive.  For a beautiful, quality copy of books that I love?  I can buy one a month.  Leather Book Of The Month Club.  HUZZAH!!  (I uh, I have to find a way to tell Jeff that I am bringing books INTO the house, shhh I haven't figure that part out yet.)  These aren't VINTAGE books, by the way.  These were printed in the 1970's or so, and are gently used.  I wasn't (and am not) concerned with 'new' and 'first edition copy' or any of that crap.  I just want quality.

I only plan on buying books that I have read and loved.  Once that copy of Thurber gets here, my shabby worn out copy is going bye-bye.  Each time I buy a replacement book, I will send my original copy off to old-book-land.  I have never read, nor do I want to read, Moby Dick, so I'm not buying that.  In other words, I'm not collecting these just to have a collection.  This is a labor of love. 

I have NEVER collected anything with this kind of purpose before. I want a copy of Steinbeck's 'East of Eden' - I want a copy of everything Jane Austen ever wrote. Can you imagine!? I can budget for and search for the exact book that I want. I can have books again!  Of course, I also have to research how to care for these books. Keeping them in a bookcase right next to a fake fireplace/heater is NOT the best place. But I am floored.

Floored that I finally found it in my soul to toss old books out, because it MAKES SENSE.  Floored that I am in a place now where I can start adding TO my home, because I have gotten rid of so much crap.  I have space now, space for fun stuff, quality stuff.  I am floored that I prefer NOTHING on my walls if I haven't yet found the one thing that sings to me.

Only own the things that sing to you.  Best advice I can give you.


  1. I've been shedding my books too. Mostly selling them through Amazon (CDs, DVDs and other junk in excellent condition too). I'm in publishing, so I've amassed hordes of books that I probably never would get around to reading, may I never paid for to begin with or were given to me as part of being a judge. I still have way too many left. Definitely my Achilles heel.

  2. On my "Must Keep" of books/periodicals: Recent (like the last year) Professional Journals. All my Vietnam Books. Many are no longer in print and some I wish I had were never returned by Vets. All my Discharge Upgrading legal stuff from the National Veterans Legal Service. (Shit, who knew they'd come in handy..AGAIN.) John Steinbeck everything except "Grapes of Wrath." And a few (many) others. I am self-limited to *one* bookcase: It's 3 stories high and 120 ft. long-KIDDING! I couldn't afford to heat all that (which is a good thing.)
    As I said, "stuff" is the "stuff of Stages of Life:" Desire, Acquire, (Have-Pity-On-Your-Kids) Fire, Expire. This last part? Do it not only cheaply (cremation is free) but don't take up a lot of space: Be a Cadaver Donar. Someone might learn something before they flame ya. You won't be around anyway-if ya live long enough, you're already mostly dust and debris in a not very attractive skin suit. Might be time to consider the typical N tactic: Get rid of the "evidence" any way ya can ;)

    1. TW - I have already told my family, cremation is the way I want to go. I would also like to have my body donated to 'The Body Farm', where the feds leave bodies lying about in various containers and clothing options and watch how they rot - it helps with catching murders (imagine the ghosts in THAT neck of the woods!)

      I want to be done with STUFF. I would live in a cab-over motor home if I could.

  3. Love this...can't do it...but love it! (One day soon)

  4. Instructions to my daughter: Take what you want then auction the contents of the house. As for me: unplug, torch and flush.

    In the meantime, as I age, if I show the slightest signs of turning out like either one of my parents a bullet between the eyes is in order.

    1. Mulder, that's pretty much exactly what I want! Mike, take notes.

      Seriously, if I thought I was turning out like either of my parents, I'd find a way to kill myself.