Wednesday, November 28, 2012


The Reading Life: How Can I Give Away These Books?

In a true effort to cut down on my huge collection of books, I lurk warily before the bookshelves in the hall. I guess this one can go. And this. And perhaps all the paperbacks that belonged to my mother. Or not all. Some. A few. Maybe. Because when I riffle the pages, I find her penciled notes in many of the margins and it would be like giving away a part of her. Despite the yellowed paper. And the pinched print. (How did it become so small?)

A peculiar, miscellaneous assortment of fiction and non-fiction stands on parade dress before me, from Stephen King to Malcolm Gladwell. Could never give away King’s The Green Mile. I’ve read it perhaps six times, annotated it, underlined, highlighted, all to study how King pulls readers in. How the whole plot of the book, everything, is revealed in the first few pages. As readers, we just didn’t know it yet. Genius.

The test is whether I could get the book now from the libe, even download from the libe to my eReader, or borrow it from a friend. Weed, weed, weed on down the line.

“And yet,” borrowing that fateful phrase from Nicole Krauss’s History of Love . . .

And yet. I could never give away these Nevil Shutes. Or Jessamyn Wests. Or Rumer Goddens. And here’s that lovely, remarkable My Family and Other Animals  by Gerald Durrell, brought to life so lovingly on PBS some years ago. I waltz it to the tipsy pile on the nightstand for re-reading.

And what about My Mother the Cheerleader by Robert Sharenow (is that a great surname or what?). Like the work of Christopher Paul Curtis, Pam Munoz Ryan, Bette Bao, and many other writers, this book layers fiction upon fact, upon history. One courageous, real-life six-year-old named Ruby Bridges is embedded in a plot that movingly introduces the twists and terrors of the Civil Rights era to young readers who weren’t alive, and whose parents weren’t alive, when she walked with four tall federal marshals into a school in New Orleans under court-ordered desegregation. How she didn’t eat her sandwiches for lunch for a month because a horrid protester, one of many lining the sidewalk to the school, hissed that she was going to poison Ruby’s food. The naiveté of the young narrator. The slow build-up of understanding. Nope. Can’t give that one away. But this book can move to the lending library in the living room for my critique groups, grands, and others.

I work on, walking my fingers over spines, remembering the feel of the pages, the inability to stop reading deep in the night due to cliff-hangar chapter endings . . . Uh-oh. Here’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow tells All by Allan Gurganus. I know before I open it that I’ll see the note I wrote myself after finishing its 900+ pages: “I will keep this book forever.”

That’s it for today. Bibliophilism wins over weeding. One and a half boxes for the Friends of the Library do count. But the BFFs stay put.

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