It’s beginning to look as if the only way I can fit all my books into my house is to move myself out.
Why am I surprised? It’s not as if I haven’t lived in the house before. I know the equation: lots of windows plus two sets of French doors = beautiful light minus space for books.
But I’ve been away for a few years and I figured that, in my absence, the 32 boxes of books in my basement would go on a diet, similar to the one I was planning to adopt. I would cut back on carbs, and my books would jettison adjectives and weed out periphrasis (yes, I’m looking at you, Victorian novels). They would also band together, do some mergers, and see some of their fellows off. Because I don’t need three biographies of E.M. Forster, but don’t make me decide which ones to give away.
Well, I’ve stuck to my part of the bargain! – Okay, no, I haven’t. But my books jolly well should have. I’ve been unpacking them all day, and not one of them has shed so much as a page. Andrew Marr’s A History of Modern Britain in paperback? Still 629 pages long, but the photo of the Kinks in rainbow-colored shirts and tight trousers is enduringly delicious. Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series? Still 13 books, but you know, that’s okay. I wouldn’t want to lose a word of those.
Unpacking books, unpacking memories
That’s the problem: I don’t want to lose any words. Unpacking my books, I unpack myself, pulling out memories, influences, associations. The Betsy-Tacys were such an indelible part of my childhood that sometimes I think I sold colored sand, climbed the Big Hill, and went through Deep Valley High School with straight hair. I was 13 or 14 when I first read Ishi in Two Worlds by Theodora Kroeber, the story of “the last wild Indian in North America,” and began to grasp the nature of the absence that has always haunted me in my country. Where are the signs of the past? What happened to the people who lived here before? (“Where are the Dunedain, Elessar, Elessar, why do thy kinfolk wander afar?” Classic ubi sunt.)
And so it goes. I can’t even give up the books I know I’ll never read, chief among which must number the five in Welsh, including a Testament Newydd from 1891. They belonged to my Welsh grandfather, in whose honor I’ve always intended to learn Cymraeg. And I will! Right after I start that low-carb diet.
Lured into a used bookstore
What’s worse, a friend lured me into a used bookstore last week – by the cunning expedient of murmuring, “Hey, Rhiannon, let’s go to the used bookstore” – where I found, just by casually browsing (though I had to crouch on the floor and crane my neck sideways), two boxed sets containing 11 Jeeves & Wooster novels. In hardback. With illustrations.
A pause to recall one of the immortal lines:
“You can’t go around London asking people to pretend to be Gussie Fink-Nottle …Well, you can, I suppose. But what a hell of a life.”
But Bertie’s life, however encumbered with Fink-Nottles, was a fast clip round the golf course compared to mine, because now, in order to make room for him, I’ve got to get rid of some books. Either that or move out of the house myself, which would seem to defeat the purpose rather.
So it’s back to the boxes. Hmm. Le Morte D’Arthur, facsimile of the Third Edition with Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations. A very fat book that hasn’t lost a page since I bought it in 1972. And which, to be honest, I’ve never read. Can I live without it?
I’ll get back to you.