I got back from a much-needed family vacation this week. I should know by now that sunshine and sea breezes make me ridiculously optimistic. Maybe that’s why I decided to face the horror of my bookcases at last.
The truth is that I form unnatural attachments to books. I like to think it’s a job hazard and not simply a mania. I still have my Pelican Shakespeare from college – covered in dust bunnies, but still. I keep paperbacks until acid has yellowed their pages and the mold makes me sneeze. I pile books in every room of my house, thinking of them as comforting friends waiting for a chat. How could it be otherwise? My whole journey as a reader and a writer are in those pages. The high brow books and beach reads, the books I once read to my kids in the hopes they’d love stories as much as I do, the books that marked my own childhood (which I later bought for old time’s sake), the books written by dear and talented friends. For years I haven’t had the heart to toss a single one. Each volume celebrates so many wonderful moments for me that it seems an unthinkable crime to let them go.
But the world is a mysterious place, my friends, and sometimes it gives us exactly what we need. Just this week, WriterHouse announced that it would begin accepting donations for its annual book sale. The idea of my books helping to raise money for a writers’ organization was just the encouragement I needed. Purge for a good cause, I told myself. Besides, wasn’t the 100-degree heat in Richmond a sign that it was okay to spend a day sneezing, hauling, and taking breaks to re-read parts of old favorites? I got to work, and when I was through many hours later, I stood blinking and enjoying a strange sense of calm that had eluded me for months.
Almost 70 books left my house this morning on their way to Charlottesville. My son came along with me. His college orientation was in the neighborhood, and he agreed to help me lug the boxes out of the car before heading on to campus. (A college kid with strong arms comes in handy at times like these. I’m no dope.)
Halfway through the job, he stopped.
“You’re giving away my Calvin and Hobbes collection?” he asked. As a nine-year-old he was insatiable for Calvin’s cranky antics. I remember buying him a new volume for his birthday and Christmas for three years straight. Of course, that was long ago. He’s six feet tall now. He has hairy legs, his own car, and, in the fall, an exciting life that will be largely unknown to me.
“You’re going to college,” I said. “These will just gather dust; you don’t still read them.”
But Alex had stopped listening. He dug them out of the box, sweat dribbling down his neck in the parking lot. His name was still written on the inside covers in his old elementary school handwriting.
“But I could,” he said. He tucked them in the seat pouch of my van for safe keeping.
I’m still smiling.