Giving Away the Old Books (and grabbing half of them back!)

As Published in The Rye Record on April 17, 2015

I admit that I’m unusually attached to paper. Words on paper, to be specific. I save select cards, notes and love letters in a box that I’ve been carting from state to state for nearly thirty years. Those letters have an energy to them, the visual of the handwriting, either confident or unsure, takes me back to the moment that they were received. I feel that way about books that I’ve spent time with too. Sometimes a book will call to me from the bookshelf, as if to remind me of something it once told me. I open it to find a little sand between the pages or the mark of a late night cup of tea. We have shared something, that book and I.

Never has this attachment been more poignant than during my once-a-decade spring cleaning. I decided that it was time to go through and cull the herd of children’s books that I’d been carrying around for nearly seventeen years. That moment in my life has passed, and I knew it was time to clear the decks and move on. It started out smoothly enough, with the complete set of Berenstain Bears books in the giveaway pile. My kids had learned pretty much all they needed to know about the first day of school and exchanging valentines. Plus those books took forever to read and my kids always chose them on my most exhausted nights. To be honest, I kind of resent those preachy bears.

Same for The Magic Tree House series. It was magic, and now it’s over.

“I’ve got a loose tooth!”

It was the hardcover picture books that were most painful to part with. In many cases it wasn’t the stories themselves that held value, but the hours spent in communion with them, reading and re-reading until my sons and I knew the words by heart. Crayon is scribbled all over the bullies who teased Yoko when she brought sushi to school, evidence of a five year old’s budding empathy. Each book held the memory of a shared emotional rollercoaster, as Sal lost her first tooth or Harry got that ugly dog sweater for a gift. We’ve all been there.

Some decisions were easy: The Seven Silly Eaters, I decided, will be pried from my cold dead hands. Time For Bed will rest on my bedside table at the nursing home. There was a copy of Goodnight Moon, inscribed to my youngest son by my mother. I found it in her apartment after she passed away, because she hadn’t been able to make that last visit to give it to him. Um, yes, I’m keeping it.

Other books I talked myself out of. Some we hadn’t read in years, some of them never even made it into the rotation with my third child. How important could they be? I’m (please dear Lord) not going to have grandchildren for maybe 15 years. Am I going hang onto them so that I can hand over a dusty stack of books and be accused of giving the baby asthma? I convinced myself that I was doing more good putting them into someone else’s hands than by hoarding them for the not-yet-born.

I’ve finally dropped all of these books at Midland School for the book sale room at their fair. I admit that I drove around with those bags in my car for a week before I could bring my self to let them go, and that I snuck into the trunk and rescued a few every day of that week. It feels like progress to have cleared out the space, but I say it’s 50/50 that I end up going to the fair and buying half of them back.

See you at the fair!