Saturday, February 4, 2012

A blessing or a millstone?

We realised we had more books in our home than most people, when the class assignment came home one afternoon. The instruction was to "Count the books in your house."

The assignment created quite a lot of stress in our household. Did the teacher of these grade 3 students really mean all the books?

Surely not!

Perhaps we'd misunderstood and what she really meant was all the books in one room, in one petite bookshelf. That would be reasonable! But all of them! Did she mean my son to include the ones teetering dangerously on the floor by the beds ready to succumb to gravity, those on the shelves in the toilet, as well as the ones secreted away in the wardrobes? Oh what a daunting task for a child (and parent).

We set to, if not with enthusiasm, at least with curiosity ... for a while ... at 500 we'd barely got through one modest bookcase of current titles. At 1000 we gave up. It was an overwhelming task. Sneezing took over the household as books, some long forgotten, but loved nonetheless, were un-wedged and opened, producing clouds of dust and unsettling the occasional silverfish which was promptly squashed.

Some are works of art in themselves, with leather covers and wafer thin pages. They are a window into the past when the writing was flowery and long winded. They echo a slower pace of life which relaxes into the rhythm of our old clock - tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
I feel myself slowing to a happier pace as I write this, and what had seemed like a burden of history, memories and inheritance shifts gradually from being a millstone, to a link with ancestors both known and unknown - and I'm grateful I kept some of these books that so often feel like they're weighing me down.

Some of the thousands that have gone to fetes and op-shops might have been a bad decision, but the quantity was overwhelming. But I often wonder what happened to the stacks of "Popular Science" and "Popular Mechanics" I'm sure I could have made space for them ;)
Oh, and the teacher's comment when my son confessed we hadn't counted all the books. "Perhaps it's time to get rid of some of them."

So, the question is, should they stay, or should they go?


Cruella Collett said...

Stay!!! I love this! I love your books! I wish I had a library like this! Despite the dusting required (and for my part frequently not done - I've been known to use the vacuum once or twice, though), books are an awesome thing to display in a home, I think. As you say, they are glimpses into history, or into histories - whole worlds of fact or fiction (or both). Whenever I go to visit someone the first thing I look at are their books. If they have none - well - that certainly colours my perception of the person!

Manzanita said...

What a dilemma. I understand completely because I'm faced with the same decision. And I have 2 houses full of books. My kids are not the book collectors that I am, so I recently started tossing. I think advancing age dictates what you do with a surplus of books. I hate to think of passing that decision onto my kids and I somewhat know the value of my books so I began the sorting process. WOW..... it's like parting with a big chunk of yourself. A good question and good luck.

TreeX said...

Of course you have to keep them! Even on this very small selection of photos I can see innumerable titles that are worth keeping for their own historical sake alone...

Then again, I am well aware how quickly a collection expands to fill all available space -- and how it's then still not enough. I can only *wish* I'd be in a position to inherit something like this. All I'm in line for is pretty picture books of the Dutch countryside 50 years ago... But I see biographies and historical works here that I could actually USE :D

So, never you worry, hold on to those books as long as humanly possible, and then pass them on ;)

Misha Gericke said...

Hahaha I know exactly what you mean. We once counted our books while packing them to move. 15 thousand. And that was 10 years ago.

I'm thinking that it's a lot more now. And we're moving yet again. :-)

Konstanz Silverbow said...

Stay! How could you get rid of any of them? And. . why would a teacher say that you should? Why would anyone say to get rid of them? (Though if you do decide to say goodbye to any of them, you are welcome to call me! I will take any off your hands :D )

Liza said...

I have a difficult time parting with books, which is why my shelves are stacked two deep. When I really must make space though, I give books to the library. I'm sure the library sells them...but I have hope that maybe a few have made it to the shelves for others to enjoy.

sue said...

Cruella, dusting isn't high on my list of chores, and the vacuum cleaner does a passable job when absolutely necessary. Life has far more to offer than that! Like you, I look for the books when I visit people. What was fascinating was meeting relatives overseas and seeing similar titles on their shelves! You immediately feel 'here's a kindred spirit' and seem to bypass a lot of the social chitchat.

Manzanita, it is a dilemma and is partly why we've culled so many. Clearing out my parents place (a largish house that they'd build when they married) and a granny flat was overwhelming. They had an amazing collection of coffee table books as well as oh, just books on a wide range of interests. And we tried to squeeze them into our small home which was already bursting at the seams with our own collections. It hurt to get rid of so many and I had to remind myself that they were going to new homes where they'd be loved and appreciated. (at least I hope they didn't go to landfill)

TreeX, thanks for the vote!! (I wonder, are you who I think you are??) Whilst I flippantly say there are never enough, there does come a time...

Speaking of Dutch books, as a child I adored "The Cow who Fell in the Canal" it's coloured my perception of your countryside quite heavily ;)

A couple of years ago we 'entertained' a group of international students. Entertained in that they swarmed in, dived into the bookshelves and curled up around the room. It gave me a real insight into how we often need time out with books, they kind of ground us. The students all said it was one of their best days in Aust!!

Hmm, I wonder if I could wangle a trip up your way and tuck a book or two in the backpack....

Misha, my head aches just thinking about your shift - and I'm not even involved! Good luck!

Konstanz, You know in all these years, I've NEVER even thought of that comment as being weird for a teacher to say. A clash of personalities perhaps? The neat c/f clutter?
Where are you located? Could I secrete a few more into my backpack along with the ones TreeX would like and ... NO! ... can you imagine going through customs with old books .. they'd surely think there was something bad going on and arrest me for being a terrorist or something. (I assume you're not local? I'll check - because I'd much prefer they were snuggled in a bookshelf where they'd be read and loved for their content)

Please fellow book lovers, if ever you visit Melbourne, let me know and perhaps we can arrange to meet one of our great coffee shops and I'll tuck some books under my arm for you to take home - now that'd be a great souvenir!

sue said...

Liza, that's a good idea, and makes room for more! OUr library usually has a stand with books for sale at 50cents each. Gosh it's hard to resist going out with armfuls - which would defeat the purpose of getting rid of some in the first place ;)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. keep ... especially the sort you've highlighted - they're great to have ... but perhaps some of the others move on out!

Your son will have an afternoon to remember .. not sure what I think of his teacher though ...

Actually I don't have that many - but I have enough .. and need to take some to the Cancer shop ..

Cheers Hilary

sue said...

Hilary - keep it is! But I will cull the mass produced ones - I think they could go to better homes now.

It's odd that I'd never considered it was a strange comment for a teacher to make.

My son is now in his 20's - I wonder if he even remembers this assignment - I must ask him!