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Suburban Island

In Love with Books
Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004, 5:50 p.m.

QUESTION: Can I see that book again?

WHAT I LEARNED: A girl can never have to many books.

For the past two weekends weíve been knocking out some big chores. This weekend we did our fish tank chores. The 65-gallon tank in the living room can be the jewel of the household when itís clean and an eyesore when the algae starts to accumulate on the sides of the tank giving it that recently shipwrecked look. Our tank full of African Cichlids has been looking a bit on the murky side for weeks. It took a couple of hours and we smelled like fishy water for the rest of the day but the result of our efforts was a sparkly clean tank.

Iíve also been weeding through our bookshelves. I am not good about letting go of books. If Iíve read it and liked it, or anyone else in the house has read it and liked it, then itís staying on the shelf. If I think Iíll ever read it, or Iíll ever need it, or my kids will ever need it, or even future generations could possibly need to access the content within it Ė then it stays on the shelf.

I buy a lot of books Ė new and used. I donít get rid of a lot. Do the math. Books spill off the shelves in this house. Books are wedged on top of other books, stacked sideways, and double shelved. Books eddy in piles around the bedside like driftwood in the tide. I can pretty much guarantee you that you can find a few books or a whole shelf-load of books in any room in this house.

Yes, in my world books are good and more books are even better.

So I think I am to be congratulated for pulling out three huge shopping bags full of books from my shelves in the last couple of weeks. Iím not over-confident however. This is just the first step in the process. You donít think I could just get rid of them without a safety process designed to ensure that we are not wrongly jettisoning even one book that should remain safely in the overcrowded shelter of our shelves after all, do you?

No.

In fact, I am still feeling the effect of just such an unfortunate incident that has only recently occurred. It has to do with high school textbooks and some other assigned books that my daughter had to read. The textbooks cost a fortune and so I took them to the bookstore to see what I would get back on them Ė pay $95 for a book and get back $5. Thatís about how it works. I did take back two of her assigned reading books too Ė Cry the Beloved Country and Frankenstein. I didnít think she wanted them anymore and I was trying to be good about getting rid of clutter.

I sold the lot Ė two textbooks, one trade softback, and one paperback originally cost a total of about $200 now bring $17. What a rip. While I was giving them the books I was feeling like I should grab them back but I didnít because I had driven so far to sell them to the bookstore that it just seemed like I should take the money and cut my loses. I felt bad about selling off the two assigned reading books but I thought it was because of my attachment to non-text book books - something I've been trying to discipline myself to do. Consequently, I grit my teeth, took the money, and left.

Recently, I mentioned selling the books to my daughter. She was surprised. She said she thought I was only going to sell the textbooks. She said those copies had her notes all though them. Even writing this makes me mourn for this little loss of literature from our household. I had cast out books from our shelf that should have been given a place of honor. The summer was a busy time and I guess thatís how this miscommunication occurred but now I keep thinking about these books with her notes and not having them and I feel the lack of them nagging at me. The irony is that I wanted to read Cry the Beloved Country so I donít know why I sold it. I think that's what's bugging me about this book sale gone wrong. Figures I would not procrastinate when I need to do so.

This makes me think of other books I have let go of only to wish I still had later. One of my favorites as a single working woman was Helen Gurley Brownís Sex and the Single Girl. That book just made me feel empowered and potentially cool. Funnily enough I stole it from my momís bookshelf Ė a suburban housewife and mother. Eventually, I gave it away. Later, it bugged me that I didnít have it anymore and I kicked myself for such a foolish divestiture of single girl wisdom. Luckily I found a vintage paperback copy at a used bookstore exactly like the one I sent off into the world so many years ago. You can bet I snapped it right up. Unfortunately, I was long married and Iíll probably never read it again but so what Ė itís back on my shelf and thatís what matters.

If I could call up that bookstore right now and talk them into going through every copy of those two books I sold them until they found the one with my daughterís name in them, Iíd buy them back now at a premium price. Hmmm. I wonder if she did write her name in them. I wonder if they would look through their stock. I wonder if I should call them right now.

Never underestimate the power of a good book.



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