It’s getting sort of ridiculous. The amount of books, I mean.
For those who don’t know (and possibly
probably don’t care): I am currently in the process of packing all of my things, as I’m moving to a rather large city on the East coast early next year. For me, the worst part about moving isn’t my clothes, or my shoes (though they come in a pretty close second–apparently I don’t need twelve pairs of heels EXCEPT I DO), or even my writing stuff (notebooks, cocktail napkins with story ideas, a Ralphs receipt with a Hemingway quote scribbled on the back).
The worst is the books.
During Thanksgiving while Dad was in town and he and Mom were busy with the garage (which is itself a whole other animal), I stayed in my room, taking books off shelves, collecting them from piles on the floor, and recovering them from the sawhorse legs of my desk. I logged as many as I could in a spreadsheet on Excel.
I hit two-hundred before I was halfway done.
You guys. Two hundred. IN MY BEDROOM ALONE.
That’s not even counting the books on the shelves in the hallway, or the stuff on my e-reader, or the books I’ve loaned to people and want to get back before I move.
So. We have a problem. Something must be done.
The solution is clear: get rid of books.
But…but…get rid of them?
The trouble, I realized that Saturday night, as I sat at my desk scrubbing my hands over my face, isn’t the getting rid of part. I resigned myself to my fate with surprising ease.
The question is: which books to get rid of?
On Facebook, I discussed this very matter with Samantha, the bestie. I actually said: “it’s like deciding which ones get to stay on the life raft, and which ones have to sink to the bottom of the ocean.”
WHAT A TERRIBLE THING TO SAY.
But I don’t think I would have said it if it wasn’t, at least on some level, true. This whole process is, for me, like watching those Humane Society commercials with Sarah MacLaghlan singing mournfully in the background, or going to the pet supply store to find that it’s “Caturday” and a bunch of shelter kitties are available for adoption.
The way I feel about my books is the way I feel about shelter animals: I want to save and protect all of them. Every. Last. One.
ALL OF THE BOOKS, PROTECT THEM I MUST.
I suppose this kind of attitude must strike the average Jane as a shade too zealous. And yet! I can’t help it. I can’t help that, in the battle of The Hummingbird’s Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea, versus Evening, by Susan Minot, I am clueless as to which one should be crowned Keeper and which one Not. What makes one book more worthy than another?
But it’s getting insane. I can’t keep all my books. I can’t keep that brick-like copy of the Writings of the Marquis de Sade (I know I’ll never read it), even though the uptight pantyhose-wearing lady in me says I should hold on to it, if only because who would want a book with two fully nude people on the cover in an obvious post-coitus embrace, even if it is what most people would call lit-ra-churr? (For the record, that book was a gift. From a now former friend. Also that book is proof that cover artists don’t always get it right.)
See my dilemma?
I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad. I mean, people get rid of books every day, or so I’ve heard. I’ve kind of made a point of not hanging out with people who don’t feel the way I do about reading/literature/books in general, so I wouldn’t know firsthand. (This, I realize, is part of my problem, as most of my friends keep saying, “You’re not getting rid of your books, are you?”)
But that Saturday night, not unlike a plate in the earth, something definitely shifted in me. I sort of…how do you say? I put a muzzle on my conscience and started filling boxes. I started texting Samantha, asking: The Garden of Eden: yay or nay? Mythology by Edith Hamilton: yay or nay?
And so on and so forth. And it was immensely–god I hate this word but I can’t really–cleansing. It just was. I even threw a book in the trash!
Granted, it was a sixty-cent paperpack of Gone with the Wind, speckled with mold and reeking of old disappointments, but still. It was a big step for me.
I realize, of course, that this is such a first-world problem. I mean, here I am blathering about how difficult it’s been to get rid of books, when there are people all over the place who can’t even read the books they want, or who can’t even read in the first place. It’s so easy to forget that free will isn’t always a right; most often it’s a privilege, and the fact that we can afford to make choices–however big or small–is something that seems to get lost in the shuffle of, well, just about everything.
And the Internet, with its various pleasures and pains, the Tumblrs and trolls and gif-makers and content-stealers and YouTube starlets and bloggers and trendsetters, has become, I think, a perfect example of that fact. I mean, look: online, it’s all about choices. Look at all the pictures you can stare at, the people you can communicate with, the furniture and flowers and books you can buy! And it all happens at top speed, especially if you have exceptional WiFi. The instantaneous nature of the Internet and its contents renders every choice–every click on this link and that, every tweet, every reblog and plus one– practically mindless. In the midst of so many decisions, you forget you’re even choosing one thing over another at all. You just kind of go with it. (That’s what makes things like Tumblr so addictive: the numbness to choice. It’s just scroll, scroll, scroll.)
So does that mean that what people want is less choice, as opposed to more? I don’t think so. I think what people want is a certain kind of choice. That’s what made Facebook so successful, and Friendster so not. It’s not so much about the amount of decisions as it is about the quality of those decisions. People would rather choose between, say, pasta sauces at the grocery store than between hospice services for their mothers. They’d rather choose which book to read next, as opposed to which books to give away. They’d rather read captions on lolcats than read a blog post about economic growth in Namibia.
Which isn’t to say that people want only superficiality. What I mean is: we cling to superficiality because it’s easier to understand than depth. We cling to what’s easy because what’s challenging is often scary and unsafe, and there’s always the possibility of being left vulnerable, or of having your own faults and imperfections reflected back at you if you choose Challenging over Easy, Real Friends over Tumblr, books over TV. You decision could wind up being a major fail.
But maybe that’s the whole point of making choices, you know? The little decisions we make every day are what make us human. It’s not Life and Death, maybe, but Namibia over lolcats or a text over a phone call still carry their own set of ripples and repercussions, and still add up to what makes you you, good and bad, pasta sauce or no. Mindless or mindful, it’s still a choice you made.
And now, back to choosing survivors–um, I mean, packing my books.