Letting Go of the Books

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?


Filed under Metaphysics, photos, Self-Esteem, symbolism

40 responses to “Letting Go of the Books

  1. I noticed a friend on Facebook who is about to become a first time Dad and needs the extra space for the new arrival, so has been doing something similar. He’s listed on his FB page hundreds of books and if anyone is interested they can pick which ones they want and then go and collect them at his apartment. Seems a nice way of getting rid of them as well as meeting up with people you haven’t seen for a while.

    • Indeed, we both enjoyed meeting the proprietor of the bookstore. He told us how much he preferred this kind of visit. When people come to the store to sell, he can’t spend time talking with them about the different authors and editions, and the importance of the books in history and in the lives of the owners. Even better than a Kindle, a baby can hold hundreds of volumes quite efficiently. Thanks for stopping in, Anthony.

  2. I found it really difficult to let go of my books after my accident even though I couldn’t even hold them in my hands anymore. I gave them away bit by bit over the years and I gave away my last box last year. They were gathering dust and I knew that they could bring lots of joy to somebody else. I still do miss them though.
    With a very heavy heart, I gave away many boxes of my old teaching books to teachers in rural schools where they had absolutely no resources. They were incredibly appreciative. Ironically, the ones I felt most sad about parting with initially ended up making the biggest difference in the lives of others. And that made my heart glad.

    • It’s easy to love you, Tracy. I get so many important insights from knowing you! Part of letting the books go is letting go of a past we can’t get back. All things change, and we change, but part of us wants to possess that frozen moment in time a book represents, so it won’t melt. The hardest sacrifices do give us the most forward motion, especially when they benefit others. Thank you so much.

  3. sb

    What a coincidence! I’m in the process of doing just about the same thing as you. I’m not sure when I accumulated so many books, but I did and I believe it’s about time to let them find new homes. The company I work for is actually opening an education center and is looking for book donations… They will be getting quite a hefty one from me as I have four bookcases full, a closet for clothes that ended up being for books, books in my car for when I’m between classes and then a few more boxes of books I have yet to unpack. Of course, I’ll keep some as you have but I’m not sure how I’ll decide. The only ones I know I will never give away are my Ernest Hemingway’s and my Raymond Chandler’s and maybe my John Steinbeck’s. For now though, I’ve gotten a Kindle to read books from and if I really, really, really want a hard copy of a book I eBay it. Hope all your books find fantastic homes… I especially like that you gave books in place of candy for Halloween! What a great idea!

    • Thanks, Sarah. The books given for Halloween was a good impulse performed in desperation. I almost gave them protein bars! We’ve done the same thing in getting a Kindle, so you are right about our synchronicity. I also love Steinbeck, Chandler and Hemingway. Their digital ghosts shall live in it.

      (We can all celebrate the return of our prodigal author, Sarah Baram, who has come back to WordPress after her sojourn on Blogger: http://lickerished.com/ )


      • sb

        Have you read the latest from Amazon? Amazon Prime is now offering a lending library for Kindle users. I’m rather pleased with that news, but I’ll be even more pleased when I figure out how to get it to work!
        I just finished Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential on my Kindle actually, loved it. Have any book suggestions? I feel as if I’d enjoy anything you were to suggest!

        • I’m not really up on anything current, Sarah. I’m still working on classical Greek plays I missed. That Aristophanes, he’s really funny! I had only read Lysistrata before. I’m now reading The Frogs. This was a man writing political and social satire about real persons living at the time, in a country where they executed you for doing that – unless you did it extremely cleverly in which case you got acclaim and prizes. Talk about guts…

          As to how to work a Kindle, you should be able to get tips and tutoring at the Reference Desk of your Public Library, or at your local Internet Cafe.

  4. I’m down to some 400 books, a number that stays fairly constant as I rely on the local library for most of my reading now. My first job after graduation was in a college bookstore, where I had access to free paperbacks–instead of shipping the whole book back to the publisher for credit, the covers were stripped and sent. I couldn’t bear to see the books thrown out–most of them came home with me, where they stayed until a few years back, when I finally did a major cull of my shelves. I suppose it helps if you move. I’ve lived in the same place for 21 years. Your mention of what you would keep prompted me to have a quick look at my own books to remind myself what I had. I’ve now pulled out two that were important at one time in my life–A Natural History of the Senses and The Hero Within. They’re a departure from my usual mysteries and I think I’ll benefit from revisiting them at where I am now in my life. Thanks for leading me there!

    • You’re quite welcome, Karen. Now I can see more clearly how we store pieces of our past in the pages of favored texts. 400 is an admirable concentration. We haven’t gotten there yet, but it’s a good goal!

  5. The books are reprsentative of positive energy you are spreading in many ways throughout the community. I love the trick or treater story. Many children may not have been as happy to not get a chocolate bar!

    When I moved a year ago, I got rid of a lot of books by donating them and taking them to a used book store as well. It is amazing how divesting myself of material things such as this brings the feeling of freedom! Now, I have a rule…for every new book that comes in the house, one has to leave. I often do this, by gifting a book to someone. A nice little, unexpected, pay it forward which makes me and someone else smile.

  6. Loved this post! Firstly, congratulations for finding the strength to let go of some of your material posessions, and secondly- how wonderful for you to be giving them away as little gifts or Halloween treats for the kids. This was really uplifting to read and although the letting go of things can be sad, the happiness you must be getting from doing this must make it all worthwhile 🙂

    • Like our plans for the dog, I finally learned that letting go of things doesn’t mean you love them any less. Thanks, Anna. (Speaking of better late than never, I finally subscribed. I love your stories.)

  7. I really, really should do something similar. I have boxes and boxes of books that stayed in the wardrobe in the study (converted bedroom) for years until the family arrived, then got shunted out to the garage where they still reside.

    I really, really should do such as you have done. Perhaps this might be something the kids can organise over the Christmas holidays! Might keep them out of trouble!

    • You could make it a Christmas gift-giving and charitable project for the kids! There must be places to donate, and people to give them to in your area. The children get their spirits enriched, and you end up with more space and fewer material anchors. Most of us here in cyberspace have more stuff than we need anyway, don’t we? Thanks, Robyn.

  8. I’ve also set the goal to stop acquiring and to change my mentality about material possessions. I’ve been really good the past year about putting a stop to the acquiring of new stuff, and my wife and I have sold or donated a lot of possessions, but we need to do more. I’d never imagined I could part with my book collection, but I’ve finally decided to start by cutting it in half.

  9. I don’t envy the physical labor part of this purge. I’m lucky. All my books went up in flames. Unfortunately, I’m still at the “collecting” stage of life. I had just got a good collection going. Ah, well. Such is life.

    I struggled with the idea of an e-reader for so long (I do so love the feel of a book in my hand), but this summer’s events resolved it absolutely. I download all books to my Nook. If it ever gets lost, stolen, stepped on, ignited, I can get them all back.

    BTW, why wasn’t there an Invisible Mikey in my neighborhood growing up? I ‘d take books over candy any day.

    • I would have taken books over candy as a kid too! The neighborhood book club is meeting downstairs right now, happily going though the stacks.

      Perhaps, since you are a person of faith, you can appreciate the symbolism of the burnt offering you made unto God. It wasn’t intentional, but you gave up a generous portion of your harvest nonetheless.

      Thanks for sharing with us, Moms.

  10. Vern R. Kaine

    Nice to see a fellow reader! I had to basically do the same and either store or give away a number of my books. I’ve gone completely digital, although it wasn’t easy and still isn’t. I needed to carry a library around with me and of course an iPad or Kindle made this much easier.

    Great idea on giving them away!

    • COMPLETELY digital? Wow, I’m impressed, Vern. That takes a lot of discipline, or sometimes catastrophe like in momfog’s case (her house burned down). For now I’m satisfied with a 75-80% inventory reduction. Now I have to make myself transfer those hundreds of vinyl LPs so I can get rid of the records and carry them in a flash drive or iPod. Our brains and desires have so much more capacity than our storage furniture.

      By the way, first-time commenters get a “gift basket”. It’s a tradition here!
      (V.R. Kaine writes a passionate, mostly political blog. I engaged him in some discussions over OWS, which he dislikes, but it’s been civil and intellectually stimulating. If you enjoy the give-and-take of debate, you might like http://vrkaine.wordpress.com/)

  11. No, no, not the books! I got rid of all my CDs, but not the books. Not yet, anyway. Well, maybe the mystery novels I read on the airplanes–I could let those go.

  12. Wow, I can’t believe it – 50 boxes of books! I thought I had a lot when I dispersed all but 50 books when I moved to Europe. But not even near 50 boxes. I appreciate your generous approach to sharing the wealth from trick or treaters to your local church to your neighbors and friends. That’s a lot of energy to remove from your space. It’s bound to feel different!

  13. well, I had to deal with part of my large book collection when I was relocating from Ontario to British Columbia.

    So each family member and friend who visited me, got a chance to pick whatever they wanted. I also sold about 45 to other employees for a large firm I worked for at $1 per bk. Then I gave away at least 40 to a book sale fundraiser for one of the colleges.

    Right now my collection is in 2 different provinces. Where I am right now, I brought over less than 20 books. But I savour reading each one now.

    That’s great giving books away to kids at Hallowe’en. What a neat idea!

    • You and I are on the same page, Jean. And it’s a delight to discover your work!

      Jean Chong is an avid cyclist, and her blog about biking, healthy food, travel and sustainability is one of the most professional I’ve seen, illustrated with terrific photos: http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/

      • ? Honest not sure where this enthusiastic burst has to do with books.

        But to make it relevant, my real past career identity…is I have been professionally a librarian for over 20 years. All in govn’t, law and engineering sectors. But still the same…promoting the (intelligent) use and love of good information aka books, e-tablets, blogs and ‘Net. 🙂

        Yes, true a cycling librarian…though haven’t delivered books by bike yet.

  14. Hi there,
    Six years ago my husband and I went through the same process. It was so hard to give up some of our old friends and harder still to choose which to keep. The coffee table books were the first to go. What made it easier for us during the purge was friends who dropped by during the sorting process and went away with bags full of books. Some spend every summer at sea. They take boxes of books with them and share them with others they meet while sailing and fishing. Since then we clear our bookshelves and boxes and piles every spring. We donate books to organizations who have mebers who want to read them as well as to those have fund raising events that provide the income they need to continue their good work.

    My large collection of Christian books went to a couple of churches who welcomed them on their library shelves. My horse health and equestrian books went to kid’s groups and I was rewarded by seeing the smiling faces of the kids who selected books that I had grown to love as their own.

    In this community we have a history of book sharing and rotation so it didn’t surprise me last year when I saw some of the books we donated to our local recycle depot being shared again in garage sales.

    I admit we still have far too many books. I’m re-reading some classic novels this winter that I’m reluctant to give up but I’m working towards that come spring cleaning time.

    • I certainly understand the difficulty in parting from your old friends, TT. Books are so easy to love, and awfully cheap considering the value offered by good ones. All your circulation practices are the kind that renew spirit through giving. That’s a great idea about circulating some to the boaters! We have many of them here too. We are down to about 20 boxes that still must go, leaving maybe 2,000 volumes on the shelves.

      Next project – Digitize, Disburse, and Divest ourselves of several hundred LP records.

  15. jennygoth

    thats an awful lot of books when my girls left home i gave them cookery books but they handed me terry pratchett so i still have lots of books its a nice thing your doing xxjen

  16. When we moved this summer, I donated hundreds of books of all sorts to the local library. I was sad to see them go. There were lots of novels from my past in the Army, college texts I kept around, just because, old, goofy escapist literature…

    I got a Kindle last year after my shoulder surgery, so I could dive into hundreds of novels one after another without having to heft them around. It’s weird to be reading electronically, as I grew up with paper, but I’m getting used to it. The cool thing is that the library here in Arlington actually has electronic books you can borrow for your device just like regular books! Pretty awesome!

    Technology. I likez.

    And OT, thanks for the shot in the arm. It hit the spot.

    • Aw, it was nothing. I work in health care. I’m trained to notice when someone hurts. Plus, I meant it!

      I love my Kindle too, and our library has e-copies as well. It was generous of you to donate. Now others will get the value out of the books you have already enjoyed. Some of those readers can’t afford to get them them any other way. Oh, and you even get a FREE PLUG (“gift basket”) for stopping by:

      (Nicki’s an Army vet, and a Mom to both kids and cats. She writes with a lot of energy and sass. I like strong women! http://thelibertyzone.wordpress.com/)

      • I’m blushing. (I’m a ginger – we do that) Thanks for the plug, AND for meaning it. Sometimes I just need either a slap upside the head or someone to poke me with a reality stick. I’d like to add you to the blogroll, if you don’t mind.

        It’s not nearly as bad as I think it is. One friend’s cancer and the loss of another (it really does feel like a death) has me a bit on edge and more sensitive to everything else than normal.

        I’m glad the library is getting use out of those books. The county is not really rich, and this is an opportunity to give, which I love to do when I can. I have an entire library on the Kindle now, and I absolutely LOVE IT! On the downside, I’m trying to figure out what to do with all the empty shelf space. I did keep some of my favorite novels – and ones autographed by the authors – but the empty shelves are disturbing me. Maybe I’m getting OCD in my old age!

        • Sure, put me on the Blogroll. As to the shelves, I’m of the opinion the world (and Wal-Mart) has far more “stuff” to put on them than you could ever possibly find space for. Enjoy taking your own, sweet time deciding how to fill them!

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