My favorite English professor at UCD used to always say that the best way to get to know someone is by browsing through her bookshelves. And once I decided to start phase two of my annual Spring Cleaning process (the organization phase that follows the big drop-off at the county dump phase, but precedes the “You threw that away?? How could you?!” debate phase) I deduced that she could not have been more correct.
Books have always been among the more difficult things for me to give away or throw out. Maybe I’m traumatized by the insane dollar amounts that I had to spend on them in college and grad school, or maybe I feel like one day I’ll need to reference a line from an old chick lit novel to comfort a friend. Maybe I think that one day I really will try an all vegan diet, or even skim through the “Eat This, Not That” Restaurant Guide before a night on the town. But is there really any excuse for hanging onto approximately two long shelves full of Martha Stewart Wedding and In Style magazines that I’ve collected over the last decade? And is there any logical reason why I should continue to store academic course material that I absolutely loathed reading in high school and college? I used to use the excuse that I wanted to keep the books and mags for my kids to use one day, but that argument got eternally vetoed once Danny and I saw a lady on the TV show Hoarders say the same thing the next day.
Not surprisingly, the magazines were the easiest to toss. After all, it might have been all those wedding issues that wedding-ed me out before I even got engaged. The fashion magazines weren’t too hard to let go of either. Every trend that has ever existed has, at some point, been recycled back into circulation, hence recycled back into a new In Style, so I deduced that there is really no point in keeping old ones. To further the process, I even decided that I was also ready to part with a few of the required lit novels that I still had, like “My Antonia” and “Lolita,” but chose to hang on to a couple of classics like “The Sun Also Rises” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Let’s be honest, Hemingway is pretty much my homeboy.
I got off to a pretty good start and then got side-tracked by reading the books that I had placed in my surmounting salvage pile. It was as if I wanted to give them one last chance to convince me that they were keepers, to plead their case to the Spring cleaning Gods. Most of the books failed to save themselves from the Salvation Army box that welcomed them with open flaps, but a token few were victorious in finding their way back to the bookcase. The process was more draining than I’d thought it would be.
I was somewhat relieved when I got to the cookbook shelves because I have a firm “No Throw Away” policy for those. The task for them would be purely organizational. I was scarred by an incident that involved me volunteering to bake my always a hit, perfect peanut butter cookies for a birthday party, then realizing that my favorite cookbook had gotten accidentally tossed during our most recent move. The word “Discontinued” was not my friend once I tried to re-purchase the book from Barnes and Noble so I swore that I would hang onto all of my favorite recipes forever after. I organized the cookbooks according to height, picked out a Sandra Lee’s Semi-homemade recipe for dinner and then moved onto my “How To’s” and my inspirational books.
As I skimmed the book spines of four overflowing shelves, stopping to both smile and cringe when I saw certain titles, I began to realize that books have baggage. I plucked out the books “Forty Million Dollar Slaves” and John Gruden’s “Do You Love Football” and held them tightly in my hands. I remembered how I felt when I first bought them. Danny had just come home from the NFL scouting combine, and he described the scene as similar to that of a cattle auction. They called out his number in front of a bunch of scouts and coaches, asked him to strip down to his shorts, called out his weight and height measurements and then asked him to turn around slowly. It made me so afraid. I ran out to Barnes to try to find something, anything, that would give me some sort of heads up in terms of what we were about to lunge into. Although the books that I purchased that day did reassure my worries that, at times, he would be treated like a commodity rather than a person, they also prepared me, just a bit, for the highs and lows to come. I put the two books in the save pile and moved on. I began to flip through the books “Your first Novel” and “Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published.” I took a deep breath and thought back to how excited I was to start a lifelong dream two and a half years before that moment. I tossed the books onto a big cardboard box that my publisher recently sent me, full of about thirty copies of “Drowning in the Mainstream,” and I smiled. Those two weren’t going anywhere either. I picked up “Everyday Positive Thinking” by Louise Hay, I’d completely forgotten that I even had that book. My mom gave it to me as a college graduation gift and although I discarded it at the time, calling positive affirmations “hippy-dippy” stuff, Ms. Hay had somehow found her way into my day to day life over the years. Not so ironically, I only realized how much power the positive thought had, once I started thinking positively, and it has made a world of a difference. I put the book on my desk so that I could remind myself to pay it forward to someone else.
As I slowly examined the piles of books that were scattered on the hardwood floor by my feet, I paused. I looked back up at the bunch that still sat on the shelves in front of me and I admired the way they leaned on each other for support and intermingled regardless of subject or height. They had clearly become more to me than just bound pieces of paper with shiny covers. More than just black text on off-white backgrounds. They were the ideas that my best friend and I once fantasized about manifesting and they were the unspoken prayers that never hit our lips. They were the positive thoughts and dreams that made up our future before we had even adopted the policy of being forever optimistic. And there will always be room for dreams, as far out as they may be, on our bookshelves.