Posted by: ktzefr | September 17, 2011

Books: Gems Amongst the Trash

I started thinking about fall cleaning a few days ago and filled one whole kitchen-sized trash bag with junk.  If I took this job seriously, I could probably fill a dumpster.

Broken things are easy to toss into the trash; old clothes can sometimes find a new home and serve a useful purpose; but I have a hard time parting with books.  Each time I start rummaging through bookshelves I re-discover an old gem or two that must stay.  Then I get sidetracked reading and dogearing and underlining…and forget to clear the shelves.

Instead of doing a fall tossing, I decided to take an inventory.  First, I needed categories.

The oldest book on my shelves…

Francis Palgrave’s The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics, published in 1908, belonged to my dad.  I used to “sing” the verses from the classic poems when I was in the house alone as a kid (I was never truly “home alone” as my parents ran a grocery store next door to the house).  I didn’t understand a thing I was saying — or singing — but I immediately loved the “music” of poetry.

The newest book(s) are mixed in with a few older ones that are stacked on my dining room table ready to be picked up when I’m on my way to the back porch to read…

At the moment, I’m getting a few laughs from By the Seat of My Pants:Humorous Tales of Travel and Misadventure, edited by Don George and enjoying contemplating Wendell Berry’s Given: Poems.

The largest book…

is on my coffee table, and it’s filled with last fall’s pressed leaves from the sweet gum tree.  Once bright yellow, they’re not so pretty now.  I bought this book for my mom years ago, so it also holds special memories between the pages.

The smallest book(s)…

Beatrix Potter, of course!  Though you cannot see it in this picture, one side of the box was chewed by the dog and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher is falling apart.  My son loved Jeremy the best of all Ms. Potter’s  characters.

The heaviest book (in more ways, I might add, than one) is my 1,181-page The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, but this volume really doesn’t need a category.  I have Mrs. Duck’s Lovely Day, the only picture book left from my childhood and A. J. Cronin’s, The Judas Tree, which was my personal coming-of-age book.  It was one of the five books I purchased when I was ten and joined the Doubleday One-Dollar Book Club and quickly discovered that I wouldn’t be able to pay for a book-at-the-regular-price I had committed to buying every month.

I have a stash of old coffee table books that have now been relegated to a spot on the floor, but I can’t toss 20 Years of Rolling Stone or Audubon’s The Watercolors for the Birds of America.  My shelves of classics have to stay, too.  Who knows when I’ll need to consult Wolfe or Hemingway, Twain or Tolstoy, Flannery or Eudora?  I keep Katherine Mansfield’s journal on the guest room desk along with Proust and a few companions.  The most they do is collect a little dust.  What’s that old saying?  A house unkempt is better than a life unlived? 

I have kitchen shelves full of cookbooks, but I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite and ditto for the hundreds of children’s books.  A few books (Beth Hoffman’s Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt, Laura Resau’s Red Glass, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder: Essays) have gorgeous covers.  The writing is lovely, too!  (Note: the link to Small Wonder: Essays shows a new cover; still nice, but not as pretty as the original rainforest with macaws.)

We have books in every room, so there’s always something to read whether I’m working, cooking, relaxing, or not sleeping.  My son took boxes of books with him when he moved out recently, but he left Anthony Bourdain and the zombies on his night stand (Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and World War Z, the zombie book by Max Brooks).

I figure, in order to justify keeping all these tomes, I need to get rid of a bunch of other stuff.  I’ll leave that for another day and another post.




  1. What an excellent notion! I’ve been trying–and failing–to divest myself of books for decades. I did sell my Harvard Classics on eBay but I still have the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, which takes up a full shelf. Then of course there is my collection of graphic novels, the French books (Dumas, Baudelaire, Balzac, Cocteau, etc.) the car books, the music books, the how-to-write-a-book books, the gardening//cooking//how-to/build it/fix it/sell it/meditate-on-it books. It\’s hard to rid one’s self of old friends…

  2. I have the worst time getting rid of books — I want to keep them all. I try to loan them out to people, but I always want them back — sometimes they come back to me, but mostly they are gone forever. When we were in Australia, I carried three weighty books with me (no Kindle then!), and when I was finished reading them, I wondered: ” should I carry them with me or should I leave them in a hotel room in Canberra”. I decided to leave them, with a note. I’ll never know if the housekeepers tossed them, or the next guest in that room read them. It’s funny, isn’t it? I think about those books as if they had life, and I wonder what happened to them.

  3. I used to collect books. The economy taught me that when the crap hits the fan there’s very little that’s sacred anymore.

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