Little by little, I’m thinning out my collection of books. Only books I have loved and respected can stay. It doesn’t matter if they’re ones I plan to read again. I might not. But I want to be able, when I walk past and see their titles, to feel at least the ghost of a memory of the world that’s in them. It’s easy with books from childhood, which I remember well–The Borrowers, Mary Poppins, Tom Sawyer, Heidi, Pooh. Those worlds spring to life in my mind instantly. I’ll keep them forever. Also easy with the classics I read when I was young: Dickens, Jane Austen, the Brontes. Have to keep those. But then in the many decades afterward–all those hundreds and hundreds of novels! Sometimes I open one up and a sense of the contents comes drifting out. Sometimes I open one and find it’s a complete stranger. The strangers should probably go. Although, who knows? I might read them again and love them. And the same with the stack of Books to Be Read. I might read them some day. But if they’ve been on the shelf for years, maybe not. And then there are the non-fiction books, and the essays, and the reference books… It’s a long process, and one deeply connected to my identity. The books I keep will represent me to whoever comes to gather them up when I’m gone.
Jeanne DuPrau is a writer of fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. She is best known for The City of Ember, a New York Times Children’s Bestseller, and its three companion books, The People of Sparks, The Diamond of Darkhold, and The Prophet of Yonwood. The Ember series is read by children from the age of ten on up and often by adults as well. It was made into a movie starring Bill Murray in 2008. Jeanne is also the author of a young adult novel called Car Trouble, a memoir called The Earth House, several non-fiction books, and various essays, book reviews, and stories.
You make it sound like discarding books is like discarding friends. Come to think of it, books ARE friends. Thanks for sharing this.
I’m with you! I still have Mary Poppins, Pooh, Charlotte’s Web. Couldn’t bear to part with them. Little Women was my mother’s, but another favorite. Thanks for reminding me.
I sometimes feel like I’d rather sell an organ on the black market than get rid of certain books. It takes a fellow bibliophile to really get me when it comes to this.