Gordy tells me I need to clear out my office so, when the carpet installers come to move the furniture, the extraneous stuff won’t be falling out of the shelves or off the top of my desk. I think I’ve grown easy on myself over the years in tolerating the books stacked next to the neatly arranged works that are not quite alphabetized but at least thematically organized. The ones in front are the books I refer to now and then for my classes or my writing. But, yes, some of them have not been touched for several years, so maybe it’s time to pitch some, or, recycle them at the library or, throw them into boxes to be sold for a pittance at our next garage sale.
But why is it so hard to get rid of books? I think it’s that books, once we have read them, become part of us, and to throw away a book is to trim something out of ourselves. So, it’s for that reason that I tend to hold on to book for forever. Way too many books!
I have always been someone who has invested in book shelf furniture, and such book shelf furniture is located in prominent places around the house, the most prominent being the floor to ceiling bookshelf in the living room. I know almost by heart which books are on which shelves, as, they have all been catalogued for a reason—for effect, I guess, so that whoever happens into that public part of the house will look at the bookshelf and know something about me. The very top shelf is packed tightly with hard cover books about spirituality and new age topics by authors such as Fritjof Kapra and Deepak Chopra. Yes, there is a hierarchy going on—my wish to be, and to be appreciated as, spiritual, is at the top, as if putting them up there will put me closer to nirvana or some super-enlightened state. Same goes for the next level down—poetry books and books about writing. First, the hard cover, age-worn texts and collections that were maybe textbooks at one time, or the complete works of some of my favorite poets—Theodore Roethke, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams. When I glance at those books and their singular spines, I remember the poems that stand out from having read their pages so many years ago, and even many times over. Just below that shelf are the paper bound poetry books by the many contemporary poets whom I admire, some of whom I have applauded at readings over the years, and some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of participating in workshops with. And many of them are quite famous, such poets as Robert Pinsky, Jorie Graham, Robert Haas, Sharon Olds, Robert Bly, Thomas Lux, Mary Oliver, and so on.
Next, on the shelf below, are photo albums, waiting to be opened and perused—yet another look at who I am, who I have been. And all to be looked at by those I don’t know well or who know me and who I am only slightly. And all of the shelves in this public book case never change, are never rearranged; they are too much a part of my basic being to change.
But the shelves in my office—so fluid, so non-sensical to the untrained eye. And yet, I know what is what and how to find it, even when the spines are turned to the back and all I see are the fat or narrow tomes with yellow sticky notes poking out like little tongues, begging me to open them and do something with them. These are books I’ve pulled from somewhere to look something up. Thus, A Field Guide to Western Birds rests just under Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. On a certain sunny day, I might have seen an oddly colored bird on the tree outside my window and hoped to find it in the guide, on the very same day I referred to something Cheryl Strayed said in her powerful memoir. And then there are the textbooks I use in the classes I’m teaching these days, at the ready for all kinds of references so I can do my work. Tuesdays with Morrie rests just under Mark Doty’s sad but beautiful memoir, Heaven’s Coast. Both of them are references about dying and grief, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. These are the books of every day, not overflow or needless. These are the books I need to pack in boxes that say “Don’t Lose This” on their outsides so I’ll be able to restore them to their places after the carpet is installed.
I wish I could explain clearly, however, the reason for the extra books on my other bookshelf in my office. A stack of Rick Steves’ travel books—France, England, Ireland, Spain—as well as Playwriting for Dummies and Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies just below. And just next to those, two dumbbells, 3 lbs. each, and a blood pressure monitor just next to those. I can see re-shelving the travel books, or maybe even getting rid of the ones that go back to 2009 and beyond. Again, though, it’s just too hard to toss out books you’ve grown used to seeing, kind of like friends you keep in touch with but with whom you have little in common after so many years.
And I could never, ever toss out my friends or former lovers. But that’s another blog topic!