Books

The books have won

Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon, my husband would ask, "Want to go to the bookstore?" My answer was, "Does an alcoholic want to go the liquor store?" Of course. I'd leap up from what I was reading, grab the charge card and be out the door in a flash. The bookstore could be any one of many as we knew them all within 100 miles. And they knew us. I was a bookaholic married to a bookaholic. We lined up at the registers ... loaded. We always knew all the library sales and used bookstores. He bought art books. I bought fiction and poetry. And how-to books from the practical to the psychological, the religious, histories, mysteries, cookbooks, garden books, folklore and fairy tales. Biographies. Photography. Our bookshelves begat bookshelves. Books overflowed the shelves to the floor, the furniture. Books sat on sofas, took the best chairs. Once my brother dropped by, looked around, couldn't find a place to sit and said with a sigh, "I think the books have won."

A friend who lived in an older, not heavily insulated house lined each outside wall with shelves and said, "Books make great insulation." Another friend who, when she ran out of shelf space and wall space, stacked her books in a 4-foot by 4-foot square, covered the block with a quilt and called it a coffee table. She also made matching end tables. I often wonder what she made next. Bed? Dining table? Picnic table with book benches? One book editor, who worked from home and lived surrounded with tools of her trade, often said if she heard a noise in the night, she calmed her fears that someone had broken in by saying to herself it was just the books shifting ... until one night the books kept shifting and shifting. The next morning the lock on her backdoor hung loose and all her silver was gone.

I have often said books have saved my life on many occasions. Somehow the right book at the right time had found me, lifted me up, let me learn what I needed to know and helped me until I had the resources and other books to go on. Once, sitting in a reference room, I turned around for some reason, and there almost poking me in the back was the one book I needed for my thesis.

I never got a chance to tell Laura Archera Huxley, who died recently, how much I read and reread her "You Are Not the Target." Nor have I ever thanked Betty Friedan for her "The Feminine Mystique." I cried with Colette, and Harriette Arnow's "The Dollmaker," Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," Wilma Dykeman's "Tall Woman" and others. Laughed with Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor and Barbara Pym. I tramped the moors with all those dark British novels, saluted Thomas Hardy at Stonehenge, Isak Dinesen in Denmark, the Brothers Grimm in Germany.

And the cookbooks. If I'd made a fourth of the dishes I drooled over I'd be in the kitchen 24/7.

Once a bookworm, always a bookworm, but eventually little bookworms grow into bookaholics, which is a grand thing until the said bookaholic must move. Then, oh, then, the sins of book gluttony come home to crow. What to do with a bounty of books? Resell? First editions, even autographed first editions, don't cover the cost of gas to get them to the few bookstores that have stayed in the trade. Boxes of books go to public libraries, thrift stores, any place you can find to take them. True friends will help you pack and distribute. They will even let you give them books. Sometimes with casual acquaintances you feel like a gardener with an abundance of zucchini: You leave the car idling, drop a box of books on the porch, ring the doorbell and run, run, run.

I once gave 337 pounds of poetry to a college library. I know it was 337 pounds because I had to weigh and ship it, but first I packed with great glee Gertrude Stein next to Allen Ginsberg, tucked Ted Kooser in with Sappho and Hilda Doolittle, Emily Dickinson snuggled up to Robert Haas.

My husband left a thousand art books when he died. I finally found a fledgling art school in Asheville that came to catalog and claim them. Joyfully. Thankfully. Appreciatively.

The first change to the new house is having bookshelves built. There's no cure in sight. I can't imagine curling up under a crocheted wool afghan with a cold e-book or laptop on a rainy day. Even if they don't take shelf space.

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