VERNON COUNTY - It’s happening, the event of the year that could last for four months, while making my house look like a tornado hit. I’m cleaning and reorganizing my books, bookshelves, book trunk, and any stray books that have found their way under the couch or bed. A bulldozer would be useful, but I have only my arms and they can carry only so many books at a time.
If I have an addiction, it’s books. I buy books everywhere I go. I have favorite bookstores in many of the cities I enjoy visiting. Sometimes, I even buy books online.
I’m lucky to have a neighbor who will come over from her ridge top to my valley to rummage through my books during this annual book cleansing craze. She typically leaves with a few bags and boxes full of books, some to read and some for the library at the school where she works. It’s the perfect situation for both of us.
When I decide the time is right for a book cleansing frenzy I become a bit OCD. My method of operation is to hold each and every book, look at the front cover and back, and make a decision as to whether I will ever read it again, want to share it with someone I think would like to read it, or should just let it go. Save, pass, or give away. Seems easy enough, but it can end up taking months. There are just that many books, and like rabbits they seem to multiply when I’m not looking.
My love for books started early. My mom would take me to the bookmobile every week when it was in town. Painted turquoise and white, it looked like the offspring of a school bus and an Air Stream. It had a step that would magically lower from the doorway when the bookmobile opened for business.
Often my mom and I would be the first in line, waiting. When the step came down, it was still too high for my short legs to reach. That gigantic step up led me into a whole new world. I loved the look and smell of all those shelves lined with books upon books, and the round silver step stools on wheels to help us reach the ones above our heads. Almost as good as picking out my books was handing them to the lady who pulled out the card and stamped it. It was hard to be patient until we got home to start paging through those books.
I still feel the same way after spending hours picking out books from any bookstore at which I’m shopping. If I could manage to read and drive at the same time, I would. Often, when I’m engrossed in a fascinating story, I find myself turning the book over to look at the author’s picture and reread the bio a few times.
When I think I’m almost done straightening out one of my three humongous bookshelves, I realize I have at least 20 books stashed upstairs next to my bed. This is where it can get tricky. Which books should stay on my night table and which ones should come down the stairs? I decide calming books stay up, the rest go down.
When I ask my friend, a fellow bibliophile, for advice on how she organizes her books my jaw drops open as I listen: “I subdivide by genre first; then within genre, by sub-genre; within each genre or sub-genre, alphabetically by author; and for each author, chronologically by publication date.”
My mouth starts to dry out and I quickly close it, but instantly reopen it to say, “You’re kidding, right? I organize mine by animal type.”
We both have a good laugh as I go on to explain that I have sections for books on apes and chimpanzees, birds, elephants, dolphins, dogs and wolves, and lions, tigers, and bears. I then go on to name other miscellaneous non-animal categories: books on Bhutan and Tibet, the trimates (sometimes called Leakey’s angels—Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas), dog sledding, mountain climbing, biographies and memoirs, other adventures, and my calming books (Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Pema Chödrön and the like), which from now on will be kept upstairs.
I can’t imagine living in a bookless house. It wouldn’t feel like a home. I’m not interested in e-books, Kindles and such, although I’ve heard many people like the convenience. My books are my friends, some new, and some old. The ones I like the best are written in, starred, highlighted, worn out from rereading, have torn covers, and are beginning to yellow.
As the months pass and the floor near my bookshelves starts to clear, I’m appreciating the magic of written words. A good book, with a good story, is worth a house that sometimes looks like a hurricane hit.