My books speak to me.
Especially at this time of year, when I try to cull their ranks during fall cleaning and donate them to the local library.
“You can’t get rid of me,” my 1985 copy of “On the Road” says, as I pull it from the shelf. “We go back too far. Don’t you remember reading me for the first time when you were 22 and living out in California? I blew your mind, man, you thought I was the coolest book you had ever read with my run-on writing style that made you want to be a writer. Put me back … quit messing with me.”
And so back it goes. This thinning-of-the-ranks exercise was my wife’s idea. The piles have again gotten out of hand. If for no other reason, you can make way for new ones, she points out. When she puts it that way, who can resist the exercise?
I move into our home office, where the bookshelves are bulging. Here are some likely candidates, I think.
“Put me back,” says my 1978 copy of Paul Samuelson’s “Economics.” “Put me back for the same reasons you didn’t sell me back to the college bookstore at the end of your sophomore year. Your intention has always been to re-read parts of me, to stay on top of economic theory. Besides, how could you get rid of me? I flood you with memories of your first serious girlfriend. When you and she used to stay up late to, uh, study. Put me back. Your demand for me is high, with limited supply.”
Damn you, irrational memory jogger with your displaced sentimentality and emotional blackmail!
I run to the bookcase in my older son’s room. Certainly I can find something in here to throw into my empty box. I start grabbing at the slim volumes of picture books.
“What are you doing?” asks the worn 1996 edition of “Goodnight, Moon.” “You read me every night to your two sons. You read me ‘til your boys, curled up beside you in bed, went to sleep. You read me by yourself. Just because you liked the pictures. Just because you liked the rhythm of the words. Just because I remind you of when your boys were little. Good night, bookcase. Good night nearby books. Good night thoughts of getting rid of me. Good night, Glenn.”
I gently close the small, red book and place it back in the bookcase, next to “Goodnight,” “Gorilla,” “Mr. Cookie Baker,” “White Snow,” “Bright Snow,” and all the other picture books that I’ll look at in next year’s fall cleaning, but not get rid of.
I pull “Treasure Island” from the shelf. “Argh! Blast you, matey. Be you daff? Your own mother gave me to you when you were 10. I was your favorite as a kid. You’ve read me twice to the boys. Unhand me! Put me right back next to me friend, “Kidnapped.”
And so, I go to the one place that started all of this. The pile next to my bed. The unruly, unsightly, messy, thoroughly unconnected pile that, when it fell over last night, spurred my wife to say, “Time to clean.”
I pick up Daniel Boorstin’s “The Discoverers.” “Me? Really? You want to get rid of me? I’m the one you look at every six months, intending to read. You aspire to me. I’m exactly what you love about books — discovery. Put me down.”
And on it goes. It’s an annual review, so to speak, between my books and me. And so, waddya do? I get into the car, head to the bookstore.
And buy more.
Glenn Miller is the owner of Miller & Associates, a corporate communications and video production firm (glennmillerandassociates.com). He shares this column with his wife, Jocelyn Hale.