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. The method I chose is to organize my books 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?”  She must have a full wall of them.

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

“Oh no?” I said then returned to the basement to fetch a stack of Woman on the Moor books.

Looking a little puzzled, she said, “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.