The antique Limoges and Madame Alexander dolls are one sort of thing-you-don’t-know-what-to-do-with. The books are another matter entirely. No matter how resonant a thing is, how much of your history it carries, no necklace or bowl or rug has the layers and layers of the battered copy of the novel you fell in love with in 6th grade and read 12 times (Ivanhoe) or your original copies of TLOR, the book that taught you what wild things you could do with a crochet hook, the collection of frightening poems about the last days in Hitler’s bunker that you wrote your dissertation on. This is why I have 3 different Complete Shakespeares. Then there’s the historical novel sextet in which I found my second daughter’s name, which I did without remembering that my own name had found its way into my mother’s vocabulary late in her pregnancy when she was loaned a steamy romance. And the poetry—every print journal in which mine has ever appeared and all the books I have loved or valued enough to keep. The books, more than anything else, feel like a very detailed map of who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve loved, though not who I’ve loved. I guess that last bit makes them the 2nd Most Important Map. As map, though, it makes them hard to part with: Georgette Heyer and Terry Pratchett, James Wright and Lucille Clifton, poetry anthologies for teaching and histories of couture or ballet for pleasure, books and books on Holocaust Lit.
Then there are my husband’s books: naval and war histories, encyclopedias of Theology and Classics, volumes and volumes of Medieval and Church History, much of what’s been written about Machievelli and Thomas More, the Crusades and Plagues. There are almost as many in his office at the University, and they will have to be dealt with when he retires next year, but those are next year’s problem. He is busy trying to find homes for many of them—many are the standard books in various fields and might find homes in some of the less well-funded smaller college libraries around us. Many relate to long-since-completed projects. Many are standard volumes passed on to him by his retiring professors. They themselves have histories. Together they also comprise a map of who he is. We will pass over in silence the entire wall of books on more or less permanent loan from the University Library (it’s a professor thing). Those I am being a hard-ass about him returning.
We aren’t Book People in the same sense as the community at the end of Farhenheit 451, though I desperately wish I had that gift for memorization (at one point in my college years, I could recite the opening passage of The Sound and the Fury and the closing paragraphs of The Once and Future King, but I don’t tend to retain what I memorize, even if I work at it). We are certainly People of the Book in religious terms, but that’s not at all the same thing. We are, though, Book People in a more general sense—people who love them, are very nearly helpless in bookstores, people who were saved by them in our youths, people who keep and treasure them for a great cloud of reasons, and people who write them. Still, some books need to fill up someone else’s soul, someone else’s curiosity, someone else’s space. It’s not a thought I’d have ever admitted to a few years ago. I think we’ll still have more than enough books here to qualify as Book People, even Advanced Book People, but maybe we’ll lose our credentials as Book Hoarders. Which is a little sad, but not sad enough for me to keep all zillion of them on our over-laden shelves, no matter how much I love photos of writers or artists taken against the backdrop of their gloriously-over-laden shelves.