Yom Kippur is approaching and I am going to confess to what many people would regard as a grievous sin: I throw out things that many people regard as holy: my grandchildren’s art masterpieces, ancient birthday cards, old letters, newspaper articles that I wrote back then, and lots more. I don’t miss them.
As if that isn’t shocking enough, I throw away books.
People regard discarding books as a sin second only to stealing crumbs from paupers on the street. But it’s not. To me, books that I am never going to read again are just dust-gatherers on a shelf.
Does it give me any joy to see a worn copy of “David Copperfield,” read in high school and never opened since? Nope. Maybe it would make someone else happy. Great! It’s theirs. I know, as well, that I am never going to read “The Pelican Guide to English Literature” in five volumes again, or even works by Agnon, Dickens, and many other distinguished writers. (Shocking, right?) They can all find new homes.
Also gathering dust and just begging to be discarded are all those worthy books my daughters received as gifts. The kids are now in or near their 40s. They never showed any desire to read them back then, so why would they now? That’s why they’ve left those books to clutter up my home, not theirs, no matter how many times I’ve asked them to take the books already.
Some categories seem to multiply by themselves. Travel books, for example – we have a lot of them. But I am never, I’m pretty sure, going to go back to Cambodia, Korea, or Utah, particularly if Covid doesn’t go away soon. In any case, they are way, way out of date, with lists of hotels that cost $30 a night and probably no longer exist. TripAdvisor and Google provide the same advice, free. Out!
Recently, I was amused to read a Facebook post by someone vainly trying to sell his volumes of the Encyclopedia Judaica. Good luck to him. There must be zillions moldering on shelves all over the world. True, I haven’t yet brought myself to do anything about ours, but one day, it will happen, and then goodbye to all 16 volumes plus yearbooks.
The question is what does one do with all this printed matter?
There are lots of places to donate books. ESRA bookstores, of course, take them to resell, but ESRA is fussy and wants only recent best sellers, for the most part, that people will actually buy. Better, within a few blocks of our apartment is a municipal seniors clubhouse with a shelf outside for donated books, a health club that displays discards, and of course, the garden rubbish disposal areas scattered around the city, where I neatly pile up books, covers facing out. I can’t tell you the pleasure it gives me to notice that a few hours later, they are gone, even the most obscure. Wonderful! Someone has taken them. As my mother used to say, enjoy in the best of health.
Not hoarding books doesn’t mean not reading. I read lots of books, but these days, it’s on a one in, one out basis, unless they are on my Kindle, which most are. I also keep some books. I treasure and reread my dog-eared copies of Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, and “The Big Book of Jewish Humor,” and they will stay with me, along with some others, into my dotage.
I would like to claim that the shelves in my home have been thoroughly curated, but sadly, that isn’t the case because my husband does not share my obsession. I am not allowed to touch any of his books, which include a 1956 edition of “Diseases of Infancy and Childhood,” a Merck Manual circa 1961, a comprehensive collection of books on Winston Churchill, and others too numerous to mention that have not been opened in decades.
Anyone want one?