There is clear evidence that some of my priorities in life are changing. Here is one tell-tale sign. Last weekend, the Glen Rock Public Library held its annual book sale. And I made my annual appearance there, scouring through the offerings and debating which ones I wanted to have or needed to have. This annual debate comes with several different questions for me to ponder: Is there room on my crowded shelves for more books? Is Audrey going to have a critical comment about my adding more books to those shelves? Do I really care if she is right in suggesting that I’m probably never going to read most of the books that I’m adding to my crowded shelves?
The sale and my mental debate go on each year, so what was different this time? In a word—ratio. In the month prior to the book sale, I boxed up and contributed more than 60 books for the Friends of the Library to include in the sale. Some of the books I had fallen out of love with. Some I had read and didn’t plan to read again. Some I thought might attract the interest of buyers other than me and be good business for the sale. And some I couldn’t figure out why I owned in the first place. Then, on the day I made my book-sale appearance, I purchased —count them—only three books, almost a world record low for me. 60 books out, 3 in—the ratio seems all wrong. Which is where I see
evidence of changing priorities.
|My three new purchases included a copy of Thomas Hardy's |
collected poems. Can you ever have enough Hardy?
During most of my life, my books have been my most prized possessions—and the bulk of what I own. Take my move from college to graduate school in June 1971. Graduation was on a Monday, and my graduate program was set to begin Friday later the same week. My parents and I packed all of my possessions into one of the world’s oldest and most rickety Ford Econo-line vans for the 104-mile trip between New Haven and Providence. The possessions consisted of two boxes of clothes, two boxes of record albums, and ten boxes of books—which would seem to be the right ratio for the me then. The van had only two seats, so my father and I took turns driving or sitting on one of the boxes in the back. My mother, as always, rode shotgun. The box sitter spent a lot of time trying to find his balance as the van rocked on its poor springs and loose axles, and the boxes shifted around in the cargo section. That memorable trip ended with me getting out of the van and helping to push it up the steep hill that leads from downtown Providence to Brown on the east side. Not a pretty picture!
As the years have gone by, I have added to my possessions and have done occasional winnowings. On the book front, however, the balance has been mostly to add rather than to subtract. It is hard for me to discard a book. I once made the excruciating decision to box up several cartons of books and take them to a used-book store that specialized in both collectables (as I saw my offerings) and junk (as Audrey viewed most of them).The owner rejected almost all of my books and suggested that I do my best for society by (shudder) recycling them as old paper. Imagine, a bookseller without a heart! What did I do with the bulk of the books? I recycled a few and gave most of the rest to the library book sale that year. I hope that they found good adopted homes. I filled their spots on my shelves with new purchases.
Then, this year, the changing me gave away 20 times more books than he took in, and I see that as a continuing pattern. What’s the explanation? I’m not sure that the difference is so much a matter of shifting interests as one of age and pragmatism. As I went through the books at this year’s sale, I focused first on title and topic. But I looked just as critically at length and type size. I have reached an age where my eyes and brain just don’t want to work as hard as they once did to get through a long book printed in type meant for younger eyes, those requiring a milder prescription with a lesser astigmatism. Sadly, I’m sure that there will come a time, hopefully far away, when I will be turning my book purchasing to large-type books or upping the font size of books on my Kindle from moderate to REALLY BIG! But I still plan to be at next year’s book sale at the Glen Rock library and at others in neighboring towns. I have my priorities, after all!