In a snit, I have decided to get rid of most of my books, which sit untouched year after year until I pick one up and am appalled at the amalgam of skin flakes, dog dander, cat hair, pollen, bits of long-deceased mites, clothing fibers, and microplastics familiarly known as dust.
This, I reflect as I blow the stuff off my fingertips (which then settles on the nearest surface, probably another book) is an outrage to the most elementary housekeeping, not to mention the written word. My books—the majority of them old friends who have seen me through many a dark hour, week, and month—deserve better than this. Left to languish undusted, books will deteriorate, largely due to the acidic nature of skin flakes, dog dander, etc. which interacts with paper and slowly but surely destroys it. Sites frequented by bibliophiles recommend dusting books (with a paintbrush or soft cloth) every week. For once, Martha Stewart is less exacting. She advises us to take down and dust all our books every three to six months.
The initial purge of 48 boxes of books during the downsizing from house to cottage still left me with about 14 linear feet of bookshelves to look after. Working at a sprightly pace of one shelf every ten minutes, it should only take me a little over two hours to take care of the entire collection, something I can surely manage to do a couple or four times a year. But I don’t want to.
Sido, the mother of the great Colette, used to say that when she spent time carefully wiping her collection of porcelain cups she could feel herself growing old. For me, even thinking about dusting my books every three months, let alone every week, conjures up the unrelenting approach of decrepitude. Plus, dusting the books would only be the beginning. I would have to dust the shelves in addition to the books, and after those, the tops of the picture frames, followed by the lampshades, the stretchers under the dining chairs, the staples inside the pantry, the mouldings of the doors, the baseboards, the baseboard heaters, the refrigerator vents, and the inside of the cups that hold my pens. (If you think that this sounds extreme, take a look inside the cup that holds your pens and you’ll know what I’m talking about.) With dusting, one thing leads to another, and before you know it you are really old.
Vacuuming and mopping pale in comparison to the complexity and intricacy of dusting, which is the fundamental key to real cleanliness. But the thing about dusting is, it never ends. I could spend my days dusting our little cottage, and as soon as I dealt with the last dust mote in the living room, a new drift of the floury stuff would already be settling softly on the bedroom, which had been pristine just an hour ago.
So, hoping to delay decrepitude, I’m getting rid of most of my books. I will keep only those that would give me an actual physical pain to part with, and comfort myself with the thought that if I ever feel an urgent need to revisit, say, Death in Venice, I can get it on Kindle, one of whose many attractions is that it never needs dusting.
Is it silly to be so tormented by dust? I have brought up the dust issue with lots of people and they don’t seem to share my angst. Me, I despise the dry, powdery feel of dust on my skin, the very thought of which makes my palms sweat. But I think that the real problem has to do with the hopeless nature of dusting, the fact that I can never truly be finished with it. Subconsciously, as I wipe and brush and flick, I know that my frantic striving to keep entropy at bay is doomed—dust will eventually claim victory not only over my books and tchotchkes, but over me.
Ash Wednesday is two weeks away, with its yearly reminder of what we are and to what we shall return. Perhaps it is high time I made friends with the stuff.
We have Housekeeping every two weeks at our retirement community.
Supposedly, they dust.
But I never let them into MY office, because I’ve had delicate things broken before – and they are irreplaceable (and also because that’s where I hide while Housekeeping is here).
So, when I have an assistant (I, disabled, function best with an assistant for two hours twice a week – it’s a battle between needing more of their time and not having the energy to use it while they’re here), one of their jobs is always to carefully hand-dust my office. Once or twice a year.
And I gave up most paper books when we moved here, so it doesn’t take too long, and there are many photos in frames that need it more.
Worst part is that I’m having a lot of trouble READING paper books – so I don’t do it as much as I had planned.
Electronic or bust! It’s the contents I care about, not the format. I’m fine with digital, and can make it as big as I need. I find that I only have an attachment to paper books that I’ve written – and there are only three of those so far – and I don’t read them myself at all anyway. I’m much more likely to go back to the last version in my writing software, Scrivener, and read my novels in the format in which I created them, resisting any urges to change a word. Because they’re fine, and reading them in Scrivener, a scene at a time, reminds me of the fun of writing them, and choosing those words in the first place.
If paper is important enough to you, hire a highschooler to dust.
We have housekeeping here too, but dusting is not their forte. I too find reading on Kindle much easier on eyes and hands.
I don’t know if dusting is our Housekeeping’s forte, but they’ve already broken things in my bathroom (among them, my electric toothbrush), and my recuerdos are irreplaceable; the ladies are not allowed in my office. And I now hide everything I can in the bathroom drawers. Too late, but that’s how we humans react.
Well, you’ve perfectly captured another of Life’s snippets! It reminds me of a book I read decades ago, The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abé where the unfortunate title character battles a relentless tide of wind blown sand in her home. I better dust it off!
I should read it, and see if she ever makes peace with the sand.
“With dusting, one thing leads to another, and before you know it you are really old.” Yes. I discovered with the glass stand my TV sets on, it takes about 48 hours for all the dust to resettle! Which makes me think, Why bother? Things have gotten dire here since the pandemic began. No more once-a-month help!
Since I wrote this post, I have heard from a number of highly civilized, intelligent people who choose to ignore dust. Something for us slightly ocd types to think about.