I love books, love holding them in my hand, a single inventory of the alphabet brought together in a meaningful way that matters to me. I do read on my iPad, but it is the physical book that I feel the deep connection with, the sound of the turning of pages, the smell of the print when it is new, the pages that have lost their luster by the number of times I have turned them, those pages I know to turn to for a burst of inspiration, for a quiet calm, for an eruption of laughter, to be reminded of what matters. I love books.
We reach an age when down-sizing takes on a new meaning. I’m closing in on that age. Now when I am reluctant to discard something, thinking it will come in handy within the next hundred years, I imagine my children holding the item up, showing one another with annoyed confusion – “Why on earth did she keep this?” And I won’t be there to plead my case. I struggle to throw away a cardboard box or a yogurt container or a glass jar and it has little to do with creating waste, recycling or otherwise. I just think a box represents the potential for order and storage and the what if of life. Glass jars have so many uses, and yogurt containers allow guests to take home leftovers. I’m not sure what I want to be remembered for, but I know it isn’t for having had the largest stash of glass jars and cardboard boxes. But my books – they are the inventory of me.
I struggle with lending books in case they don’t find their way back to my nest, but permanently parting with books is even harder, unthinkable even. It feels like the loss of a friendship, one that framed my life’s backdrop when I was busy in the “becoming” part of life. I’ve been on the receiving end of such loss, lopped off like a dead branch without explanation. It happens. I sit in front of my bookshelf and try to make a pile of the books that could find new homes. I open each one, stroke the pages and look for my notes. My shoulders collapse and I return the books to their place in alphabetical order. I have an entire shelf dedicated to books I “planned” to read, but I call it books I “plan” to read, giving it a positive spin in the present tense, because some of those books have been on the shelf for decades and I might be running out of decades.
I don’t have a single favourite book. They rotate from top position, take turns being in the limelight, the way we dragged our favourite possessions to school for “show and tell”. A new book always got held up, declared to be the best, like marbles, a new skipping rope, a new baseball, joining the ranks of my favourites. I sometimes read books a second and third time. That’s easier now, because I don’t always remember I’ve read the book until I’m well into the story and then some things start to feel familiar. I shake it off and tell myself my plan was to re-read this book – no harm, no foul.
As I try to reduce the number of books in my possession, I begin to fret about my treasures – the letters and cards from those who walked the road with me, my dad’s camera and his Commission from World War II and his letters to me, my ribbons from track and field in elementary school, my FFHS Muskie crest and letter sweater, the art on my wall from my precious Group of Four (daughters) – the rainbow and the castle and the under the sea world and the gifts wall-hanging. I have the blackboard eraser from the one-room school my mother taught in before Alberton Central opened in Crozier. I have Christmas decorations created by my daughters’ wee hands. This assorted collection means nothing to anyone but me; they are just things. But like my books, they are a road map of my life, what I carry with me from finding gratitude for every twist in the road. Perhaps I’ll hang on to them a bit longer.