It has taken a week, but I moved 50 boxes of books from storage back to the house and put them in piles by subject. In order to be freer from materialism, you have to free yourself of material (duh). Over the years we’ve loved many of these books, but we also fell into the habit of buying too freely during the years we both had robust incomes. We had enough volumes to supply a fleet of bookmobiles.
Last year no trick-or-treaters came to our neighborhood outside town, so this year we planned to go to a party uptown at our friends’ home. Just before I left, some tiny royals showed up at the door. I didn’t have candy, but they were quite excited to leave with copies of Alice in Wonderland, Thomasina, The Sword in the Stone, and Charlotte’s Web.
We have adopted our little town’s habit of recycling everything imaginable. This was a way for us to recycle our lifetime of acquired academic and literary tools. We had no interest in achieving a competitive price via eBay or Craigslist. This was a method to free ourselves by acting with generosity. Our first call was to a local independent reseller. We wanted our library to be distributed among members of our community.
The gentleman from the bookstore came to our home and went over every book, which took hours. We were delighted and cheerful in conversation with him, allowing him to choose whatever he thought his customers would like. This was the first step in dismantling a beautiful sand mandala we had made out of beloved texts. We were not interested in negotiating. We accepted the price he offered. We would have accepted whatever he offered. He took 10 boxes worth.
In a couple of days we will have a visitor from a local church to see which of our religious and spiritual texts they might want as a donation. Then a book club will meet at the house. Then we’ll have a party for neighbors and friends, where they can pick and choose at no cost. We’ll also be stopping by local nursing homes, clinics and thrift stores.
One interesting result of this process of divestiture has been our enactment of the familiar values-clarification game “What books would you take to a desert island?” I chose to keep a few cherished paperbacks of classic literature and stories I’ve loved since childhood. I kept some Dickens, Twain, Cervantes, Hesse, Camus, Zen koans and foreign language phrasebooks. But I also will sell, donate and give away some titles by those authors.
The travel books are going. The “coffee table” books are going. Many volumes on psychology, sociology, philosophy, anatomy and collections of stories and plays will be going. Film and TV indexes, photography books, history books, graphic novels and art books will all be leaving. It feels incredibly empowering to do this. I wonder what we will learn to give away next?