On Losing My Personal Library…and Gaining Perspective

Posted at Jul 21, 2013 8:00 am in , , , , ,

swirly bookshelfNot a week goes by that I don’t reach for one of the many books I used to own, then feel the pang of regret.

My house used to be filled with books, over 2000 of them. My husband challenged me to count them once and I stopped when I got to 2000, figuring that was a round number I could live with. Bookshelves lined our living room and my writing office. And spilled over into the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the basement, the garage. I know my fellow writers and readers understand the obsession.

But then life threw one of those curveballs that sometimes knocks us flat; we had to move and downsize drastically. Where to put all those books in a space only one-third the size of our previous home? In boxes in the garage for a long time, meaning the car lived on the street, but the books were protected! A subsequent move to an even smaller space led to the final good-bye to my 30-year collection. Good-bye to the hand-scrawled notes in the margins, the bookmarks from the bookstores where I’d discovered the books, reminding me of all our travels. Good-bye to the inscriptions from those who gifted me my favorite rectangular presents year after year.

I could have held onto them, waiting until the day we had space to shelve them again. My husband knew I’d regret the loss, and was willing to move and store the ridiculous number of heavy boxes once again. But I decided to let them go. I wish I could say I did this in a generous spirit of giving to others, or having reached some sort of advanced spiritual state of nonattachment. Instead, I relinquished them in a martyr-filled act of hopelessness and regret over all the loss crushing down on us. I kept maybe 200 out of the 2000 books, though I realized as I unpacked those treasured few boxes that many of the books I thought I’d kept somehow mistakenly got hauled away.

Just a few months after the moving truck carried all the books away, along with many other possessions we relinquished, I started seeing my books in used bookstores around town. The first time I pulled one off the shelf and saw my notes in the margins, I left the store in tears. A smarter move might have been to reclaim my book, but I wasn’t thinking logically.

It’s been ten years since the first down-sizing move. The material losses (and gains) I’ve experienced this past decade have pushed me and changed me in unexpected ways, and awakened a sense of gratitude I don’t believe I’d have achieved otherwise. Most of the time, I start and end my days reflecting on the many reasons I have to be grateful.

But I’m also completely irrational and sentimental and passionate and obsessive about books.

Friends have encouraged me to rebuild my library (even though I don’t have room to do this), to haunt used bookstores and reclaim what I’ve lost. To buy 1,000 books for my e-reader. To make a list of all the books I gave away. I’ve contemplated all of these possibilities, but haven’t done any of it. Oh, I’ve bought new books, both paper and digital. I am an addict, after all.

But my old library?

It still exists in my mind. I can close my eyes and picture the overflowing shelves, and remember how my son used to pull books off the shelves and “re-arrange” them for me. I can see the jacket covers and remember how happily I organized my collection, like the nerdy, wannabe librarian that I am.

So yes, I regret the loss. I regret that I can’t pass my personal, eclectic collection down to my son. But I choose to believe that my books have found new homes with other bibliophiles, that maybe bookshelves all over Denver (and beyond) now hold these books.

I’ve come to believe that possessions aren’t meant to stay with one person; they’re meant to pass through many hands, and impact many lives, instead of just a few. My ownership of the tangible books may have ended, but my mind and heart will always “own” the books I loved. The stories and the joy of discovery are still with me.

But if I’m lucky enough to come across one of “my” books in a used bookstore again, I’m bringing it home with me.


6 responses to “On Losing My Personal Library…and Gaining Perspective”

  1. Pam Mingle says:

    We got rid of hundreds of books when we downsized. Even though I knew that I hadn’t looked at most of them for years, I always felt a certain sense of security knowing they were right there if I needed them! And there have been a few times when I did need one of them! Jim and I are always saying, “Didn’t we have a copy of…?” Then we remember.

  2. Pam Mingle says:

    And…forgot to say, I still regret not keeping my Nancy Drews and Trixie Beldens and Sue Bartons!

  3. I, too, have had to downsize a sizable collection of books. I moved from Juneau, AK to Colorado with only the space in the back of my Ford Escape to carry all of my belongings. I STILL look for books I thought I kept and I’ve been in CO for over 7 years. A lot of my books did make it in the move, but so many were given to Goodwill. It was a sad day, saying goodbye to so many dear friends.

  4. Marietta Brown says:

    Letting go of books …not unlike letting go of dreams. Sadness. Regret.
    I agree we will always own the stories.
    My challenge is to experience new ones.And let that joy in.

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