My Books, Her Books (But Which Her?)

My wife handed me a stack of books she was done with.

“What do you want me to do with them?” I asked.

She pointed toward the basement.

We have been through this many times.

The shelves downstairs are mine. I built them. I covered the walls of my man-cave with bookshelves for the express purpose of surrounding myself with the books I love, not to serve as an out of sight, out of mind dumping ground for her books.

Yet again, I had to remind her of this.

It did no good.

Finally, I said, “there is no more room.”

This is true. There hasn’t been for some time.

The first time I ran out of space, I resorted to double-stacking. That is when you put books in front of books so that each shelf has an inner and outer set. It didn’t last long.

Next I turned the books sideways to take advantage of the few remaining inches on top of the rows. That hardly lasted at all.

Then I abandoned the shelves altogether, piling books in little stacks that I scattered across the desk, table, chairs and floor. Soon these modest piles grew into towering heaps and eventually I was forced to contemplate the heartbreaking task of pruning my collection.

That is when my wife handed me yet another stack of books and I told her there was no more room.

“Then make room.”

“No,” I told her, “I love my books and I am not getting rid of them.”

“Can you honestly say you love every book down there?”

“Other than yours?”

“Other than mine.”

“Maybe there are a few….” I reluctantly admitted.

“If you get rid of the books you no longer love,” she said, “I will do the same.”

“Deal,” I said and we shook on it.

So I headed downstairs to begin the arduous task of culling my library. To accomplish this, I organized my collection into the following categories:

Books I could never bear to part with

On my bottom shelf rests a collection of old Amazing Stories and Ellery Queen magazines. A few of these are classics but most are trash still I remember each short story like a first kiss. They are how I fell in love with words.

Books that are memories

At least for me, reading is as vivid as life and every good book becomes a memory. I recall the taste of salt air and the whistle of the wind through the rigging as the HMS Surprise rocked across the waves in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series.

I still shudder at the thud of bombs outside the shelter of Slaughterhouse Five and the weight of The Things They Carried from Tim O’Brien’s chronicles of Vietnam.

But then my affections waned as I came across the following:

Technical manuals

For cars I no longer owned.
For computers found only in the Smithsonian.
Ones that I wrote but only I have read.

Books I never even opened

Gift from people who thought they knew me better than they did.
All my college textbooks.
Books I bought for show.

Partially read books.

Ones where I saw the movie but hated the book.
Or read the last page and guessed the plot.
Or started in 1998…

Not Mine (by far the largest category)

So I went back upstairs to confront her.

“Now it is your turn to get rid of books,” I told her.

“Which ones?” she asked.

“How about any book with a cover depicting a woman running across a moor? The north wall is full of them.”

“I don’t read books like that,” she insisted.

“Oh no?” I said, presenting her with a stack of Woman on the Moor books.

She looked puzzled. “Those aren’t mine.”

“Then whose are they?”

“They probably belong to your ex and you have been lugging them around for thirty years.”

Oh my gosh, could she be right?

“Oh, lover of books, is there something you want to tell me?” she asked.

Author: Almost Iowa

55 thoughts on “My Books, Her Books (But Which Her?)”

  1. I feel your pain! I’ve tried to winnow my collection down before, and it’s ridiculous how few volumes I can actually part with.

  2. I’d do nothing. The best sorting (editing) tool you’ll have is when you have to pack and move all your books. If your wife suggests another house, you may be in trouble.

  3. How many were Stan’s? We just cleaned out a storage room and proudly removed several books. I’m sure there are 100’s more that could go, but you never know when you might want one.

    1. I don’t think Stan has ever read a book. It is why he is so good at what he is good at. He discovered the patterns in life on his own. Books are great at conveying the wisdom and foolishness of the ages.

  4. Maybe, what you need to do is just store your wife’s books in boxes, rather than tell her there’s no more room on your shelves? Particularly if you aren’t 100% certain that you don’t have a few of your ex’s books down there. Sometimes silence is the best policy.
    And you know, I’m always fretting about the fact that my husband doesn’t love books the way I do. But after reading this, I’m very grateful for the fact that he only stores three (count ’em, three) books on my shelves. And that’s only because they are books about sports that were given to him by mother. Who still visits often, and is exactly the sort of woman to ask him what he did with those books she gave him……

    1. It is odd how the habit of reading develops. My daughter, an avid reader, could breeze through a newspaper when she was four. In kindergarten, she read better than her teacher. My son never took to the habit.

  5. Ouch! I’m pretty sure I culled all the ex’s books. I still keep some college text books, only because, at the time, they were a remarkably large investment in my alleged education.

  6. Now, that must have hurt. 🙂 When we made a cross country move, we donated all our books except maybe a dozen or so. Since that time, we have used the local library in an effort to not bulk up again. These days, I find peace in reading and returning. 🙂

    1. I love my local library. The people there are sweethearts, though I fear they are deeply suspicious of me. I once asked if they had a copy of Practical Demonkeeping. It is a hilarious book by the great humorist Christopher Moore or so I tried to explain as security hustled me out the door. 🙂

      1. I hadn’t heard of that one. I’ve got four of Christopher’s books, guess I need one Moore.
        (I know what you mean about double stacking, sideways stacking and the need for a cull. At least I don’t have the towering heaps.)

  7. I solved the book problem for a while by building furniture out of them. You’d be surprised (or not) what a satisfactory end table a stack of books can make, especially with a bit of plywood on top and a cloth over it. Then, I just stopped lugging. The professional libraries are gone, along with the boxes and boxes of old books purchased by the boxload at farm sales. Now, I have only old friends, or acquaintances I expect to be friends — if I ever get around to reading them.

    1. When I went to the U, the standard material for constructing furniture was bricks, pine planks and plywood. No one thought of using books. I wish we had. 🙂

      1. Laughing. These books have gone through many, many sortings since those days. There are some books we would have shared, natural history field guides, for example. But they don’t really count. –Curt

  8. Oh my gosh she got you there!!! LOL. But I do share the pain of trimming the book collection! It’s too hard and so books are taking over our apartment. No women running across moors. Military and general history mostly 😉

    1. When I met my wife, she was shocked at my fascination with Byzantine history. I had to explain that I worked for government. Later, I told my in-laws about the Hippodrome of Constantinople. It was 1,476 ft long and 427 ft wide and accommodated 100,000 fans on race day. Think NASCAR, I told said. That they understood.

  9. I love the way you describe books. I always wanted a house with a library full of books. But alas, not to be. I have so little space that I keep only the truly loved. The rest sit in my kindle. 🙂

    1. MY WIFE: “Why don’t you get rid of your dead-tree editions and put everything on a Kindle?”
      ME: “How many books have you put on the Kindle I bought you for Christmas?”
      MY WIFE: [crickets chirping]

  10. The Lord in infinite wisdom took care of my book collection in a flood in California. Every book I loved was destroyed. A few made it out but for the most part a total loss. Lugging around ex’s books has to be double pain.

    1. Yikes! I lived in the People’s Republic of Santa Monica for awhile then moved back to Minnesota where the ground is stable the only thing that will kill you is winter and mosquitoes.

          1. Yeah we got three feet of water in like ten minutes. Our house was built over an underground stream. We had two sump pumps to pull water away from the house and into the storm drain. The electricity went off and so the pumps were useless. What a nightmare.

  11. After the flood all our books ended up in boxes. When i finally started unpacking them onto shelves ( two or three deep and two high on each shelf) I used the same mustread, will read, old friend, the smell of the pages reminds me, technique. My greatest triumph was getting my husband to part with computer manuals for Windows long since forgotten.

    1. Wow! You got him to part with the old computer manuals? Now all you have to do it get him to part with all the old computers, or at least that is the case around here.

  12. We remodeled recently and I removed all my books from a large entertainment center so it could be moved easier. My intention was to sort through them and donate to the Goodwill Book Store. Of course they are still sitting where I put them.

  13. Books and more books are friends who sit patiently on a shelf. I have had to ‘cull’ over the years as I live in a small apartment. I could never part with all of them, never!

  14. This is why ALL my books come from the library…..they HAVE to be returned. As much as I love to read, I don’t want to be surrounded by shelves of books I will never read again.

    Maybe it would be less painful to donate them to a Senior Citizen’s Center, or your local library. At least at the library you could go visit them and you won’t suffer separation anxiety! Lol.

    1. Around the Twin Cities, and I have seen this in other places, people put up what looks like large mailboxes along their sidewalks with a sign that reads FREE BOOKS. Passers-by are encouraged to take what they want and leave what they can.

    1. A lot of that can be solved by controlling humidity. There are some old bookstores I have no problem in and others I can hardly breathe in. Same with antique stores.

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