My childhood home was recently sold and gutted. This means that in addition to saying goodbye to the house I grew up in (and that was a big enough task to undertake….) I also had to sift through about twenty years worth of random stuff.
You know, like this:
One of my biggest tasks was deciding what to do with all of my books. Now that I can not longer use my parents’ house as a free storage facility, everything I own has to be in my physical possession. Gone are the days when I could browse idly through various bookshelves and basement hiding places to gather the tailored collection of titles I felt like housing during that particular year of my life. I used to do that ritual selection annually – before each year of college and before each temporary move. This time, however, I was faced with the overwhelming task of making my entire library somewhat portable. Yikes. Despite the fact that I had parted ways with a good chunk of my children’s books last year (see the original Nostalgic Bookworm post for details), I still had to make some pretty deep cuts.
Without much sentiment at all I gave away outdated English anthologies (Curse you, Norton for constantly creating new editions and making my old investments worthless!), some political textbooks, duplicate novels, a few poets I know I’ll never read again, and pieces of 18th century British literature that I [secretly] hated to begin with. Other decisions were harder. For instance, should I keep Oscar Wilde’s Salome? Sure, it’s incredibly creepy, but it’s also very small so adding it to my pile wouldn’t make much of a difference. Should I keep both copies of James Joyce’s Dubliners since I marked one up in high school (laughable, but interesting margin notes) and the other during a literary walking tour of Dublin? Is it really necessary for me to hang on to my 5th grade favorite, Ella Enchanted? Since it’s almost impossible to read Hemingway for fun (anyone? anyone?) should I just say farewell to Farewell to Arms?*
I know, I know…#EnglishMajorProblems
After much deliberation, the new, “grown-up” bookshelf at my apartment ended up looking like this:
It was then, as I surveyed this newly reduced collection, that I realized how the hodge-podge “survivors” of my literary cleanse seemed to represent me in an interesting, patchwork sort of way. It was as if, in categories, these books (which, for some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to part with) stood as proof of some of my labels on this blog.
And, of course…
There’s just something about the books you read during 3rd-8th grade…it’s like they stick to your bones or something. It’s as if you adopt the stories into your identity. See that pink book above in the middle with the blue title? That’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume. I think that worn-out novel has seen every bedroom, apartment, and dormitory I’ve ever inhabited. It’s funny because the book’s not particularly relevant or meaningful to me now, but I remember that at one point it was…and that alone makes me want to keep it. Every now and again I catch myself gravitating towards Sally the same way I would to a photo album or scrapbook. The other day, just as I was thinking about this very subject, I stumbled across a poll on NPR, “Best Ever Teen Novels? Vote for your Favorites.” Of course, I’m incapable of not participating in something like that, so I scrolled down the long list (100+ options, I believe) and picked my ten choices – not necessarily the most worthy choices, but the titles that really “stuck” to me.
Isn’t it amazing how sometimes when you open an old book you not only reread a story, but revisit the version of yourself when you first read it? It never ceases to amaze me. The first chapter of Harry Potter reminds me of being late for soccer practice in 5th grade because I refused to put my book down after Harry got his Hogwarts letter. The Great Gatsby reminds me of my crazy, but amazing high school English teacher who threw someone’s shoe out the window because they were tapping their feet rudely during a reading the “colored shirts” passage in class. The first sentence of Lolita reminds me of being a timid and mildly scandalized college student who reluctantly fell in lasting fascination with with a seductive, poetic narrator.
Luckily, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about parting ways with anymore books for a very long time. After this ordeal my bookshelf has warped into a trim display of selected favorites, marked-up nostalgia, and “literary labels.” Oh – and it also helps that I have this now: