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Book Burning

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

Well, not quite.

But it\’s winter here again (temps in the 50s) and raining, and as long as there was no way I could be out pruning lilacs, I thought I would have a book purge. Since coming to Vermont, my book collection has increased considerably. This is because the small villages around here have proportionately tiny public libraries, so if you consume books at the rate I do, you have to buy them.

Fortunately, there is a mammoth used-book sale to benefit one local library every July, just after the solstice. People show up with shopping carts, and you can tell that, even though the days are still long, there is already that tiny shift that points the way to autumn and to the darkness beyond. And Vermonters are getting ready for the long nights by the wood stove. I show up too, minus shopping cart, and buy armloads of books, most of them good. In addition, the local independent bookstore had started carrying an excellent selection of used books, where I have recently purchased, just to name a few, the complete Mapp and Lucia set, several novels by Penelope Lively, and Trollope\’s Palliser novels.

The same independent bookstore will buy your used books, or at least the ones they deem acceptable. They are so overwhelmed with offerings, though, that they ask that you bring no more than three boxes at a time.

That\’s what I did today: filled up three boxes from a single bookcase, and dropped them off at the bookstore. It didn\’t take me long to fill those boxes, but if I had to defend my choices as to what I kept and what I eliminated, I would be hard put to do so. For example, I kept almost all the books by English women writers, a lot of whom I am devoted to. But I kept my two novels by Margaret Drabble, whom I\’m not crazy about, only because she\’s the sister of A.S. Byatt, whom I love. Why did I hold on to nine books by Anita Brookner, who bores me to death? On the other hand, I did get rid of all the Rumer Godden books, except for The Battle for the Villa Fiorita and The Greengage Summer.

I was more ruthless with contemporary American women writers: Mary McGarry Morris, Elizabeth Berg, and Gail Godwin mostly bit the dust. I kept all the Jane Smileys and the Annie Proulxs–the former because she\’s funny, the latter because I\’m scared she might find me and shoot me if she heard I\’d gotten rid of her books. I parted with Sexual Politics, which I once devoured, but kept The Feminine Mystique, even though it always seemed a bit pedestrian compared to The Second Sex. I kept The Hite Report, but I suspect its days are numbered.

This, as you can tell, was the bookcase dedicated to women writing in English. But at the bottom I found a whole shelf of health-related books. The Power of Self-Hypnosis, Listening To Prozac…nothing ages faster than a health book. I did keep my well-worn copy of Dr. Spock\’s Baby and Child Care–in the original version where the baby is always \”he\” and the parent always \”she\”–for sentimental reasons.

My three boxes are gone, but I have barely scratched the surface. There is the bookcase of French books, the one of Spanish and Catalan books. The bookcase of dog and animal books. The bookcase of art books, and the bookcase of gardening books and spirituality books. The living room bookcases, full of as yet unsorted books. And the bookcases in my husband\’s study, which he will not let me touch.

I keep trying to come up with some criteria for making book decisions, but I can\’t do it. I know only too well that, of the books that I kept today because I once enjoyed them, there is less than a one per cent chance that I\’ll ever read any of them again. This bothers me: I am not a hoarder. If I haven\’t worn a piece of clothing in the last two years, I give it away. I have parted with porcelain demitasse sets and hand-embroidered guest towels without a second thought.

But books are a different story.

8 Responses

  1. Porcelain demi-tasse sets and hand-embroidered guest towels? Not to mention books upon books. I think I'll buy a big catcher's mitt and take up residence in your driveway…

  2. Elizabeth, you should have been there when I was packing to move to Vermont–that's when the demitasse set and other stuff went. But maybe I should call you next time I'm ready for a book purge.Dona, maybe they'd be easier to part with if we gave them to friends. I'm thinking of doing that next time.

  3. Indigo, I'm not sure. The used books bookstore in Poultney gave us an average of, I believe, $2. I forgot to ask at Northshire. And the books they don't accept (at Northshire) they either donate or return to you, depending on what you want. Oh, and they give you an additional 20% if you choose store credit instead of cash.

  4. Indigo, I'm seeing us hanging in Lali's outfield with our catcher's mitts and a pitcher of margeritas…Lali, thank you, going through your discarded books sounds like a dream – I expect I'll be buying some at Northshire…

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