Sunday, June 19, 2022

Spring Cleaning

I’ve been culling my books again. (We’re still a day or two away from the beginning of summer, so I think I can still technically get away with calling this “spring cleaning,” though we’ve just come off a run of ninety-degree days and next week looks even worse.) I also got rid of lots of other things – lamps, a stereo, a bag full of towels, and a pair of waterproof boots – but I’m not worried about those. I’ve never gotten rid of a lamp and then, two years later, had a sudden urge to bask in its light.

But books are another thing entirely. I’m constantly kicking myself for getting rid of books. It goes like this: I’ll meet a friend for dinner, he’ll casually mention he’s reading his favorite John Irving novel, and by the time he’s done talking about it I’ll be overwhelmed with the urge to read it. Why, I could start it that very night, if only I hadn’t been such a fool and given it to Goodwill eight years ago!

How could I have been so short-sighted? How could I have been so irresponsible? Didn’t I know, deep down, that I’d really, really want to read John Irving within the next decade? Would it really have been such a burden to keep the book with me just a little bit longer?

Over time, these experiences make it harder and harder to get rid of books. Each time I set one in the “donate” pile, I try and peer into the future to imagine a circumstance in which I might possibly, one day want to read it. This isn't very difficult to do.

There’s an error in my logic, of course, which is that I only remember the books I regret giving away. This is a small fraction of the total books that have circulated through my possession, books that eventually make their way to a library sale or a used bookstore and out of my mind forever. But it's like that forgotten majority never existed. I won’t think of those books again, meaning that when it comes time to pare down my library all I'll remember are the volumes I wish I’d held on to.

One of the things I like about giving money to Donors Choose is that sometimes you get thank you notes from te students. Often these will be sweet, homemade cards with a few kind words and a drawing in crayon or colored pencil. They’re also surprisingly specific. Even if that's the result of some coaching by their teacher, it does make you feel pretty good. “Wow,” you’ll think, reading the cards, “these kids sure do love their Newsweek subscriptions!”

So is it too much to ask for the same kind of thing from books? I think it would help if just once I found a note in my mailbox from one of my old books. No return address – I don’t need any personal details – just a plain old card inside a small envelope.

“Hello. I wanted to send you an update. After three years alone and unread on your shelf, I’d begun to feel a little unwanted. But now I belong to a college kid, and he reads me alone in the quad. I think he secretly hopes someone might notice me and strike up a conversation with him, but he doesn’t dog ear my pages and he laughed at page 73. So things aren't too bad here.

Anyway, thanks for giving me away. Hope all is well.

Your book,
The World According to Garp

Clearing Things Up

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