It was well past time. They had been left, disregarded for years, decades even. Pages had yellowed, some browned, brittle, as if left too long in the oven. A thick layer of dust had settled in for the long haul. Finally, I recognise that these books that had once meant something are to be cast out to the place that had consumed our vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs and DVDs.
What do I keep and what goes in the laundry basket to be carted downstairs, ready for disposal? Some years ago, I had weeded out the “potboilers”, bought for long flights and resort holidays with the kids. I had tossed the books that had annoyed me for their substandard writing and cliched plots. So now, I have to be ruthless with what remains.
As a younger woman, my library mapped my inner life. Crammed bookshelves were both a form of home décor and an indicator of what I had learned and what was valuable to me. There were the treasured stories of childhood; the Russian fairy tales; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; my mother’s The Secret Garden; poetry and books on art. Then, there were the novels I studied as a college (uni) student – quality, difficult stories. Serious fiction writing. Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, James Joyce, Doris Lessing and Patrick White.
There were tomes I gathered as part of my social and political awakening. Feminism. Politics. Books about power and where it resides. They nestled with the books I had been given for review as a journalist – a few had been gems and had changed my thinking. More recent books had been selected for their perceived quality writing, but the selection had been thinned by my conversion, first to a Kindle, then to audiobooks. There are piles of books written by friends who had the perseverance and courage to take one of my dreams and run with it for themselves. Most have been read. Some, I admit, have been bought as an act of support and never opened.
Then, it goes without saying, there are art books stuffed in every space, anywhere and everywhere.
For decades, anyone who cared to run their finger along the spines of my collection could have had insight into who I am and what I hold as valuable. But nobody ever has. People don’t stand and peruse the bookshelf while I busy myself in the kitchen, making them a pot of tea. They are not sucking their teeth at the evidence of my politics, being reassured by my moral code, or finding common ground in my taste in fiction. And I no longer care to use my consumed reading to display myself to them. I don’t need to. And, anyway, I can use my social media posts to declare my thoughts, rather than to hint at them through the hoarded words of others.
So, what have I kept? I still have all my art books and have bought new bookshelves for my studio to keep them close at hand for inspiration. I have also retained books with sentimental value: those that belonged to my mother and grandfather, inscribed with their names. I have saved important ones from my childhood and those that had an impact on my thinking as an adult. I have also kept most of my friends’ books – just in case they come to visit and check my fealty.
These remaining volumes, dusted and rearranged, are no longer things to be read. They have become objects of nostalgia.