Roz and Her Library of Books

October 14, 2019
This is a page spread from Franny Moyle’s Turner: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner. It is probably the LEAST marked up page so far.

I have been greedy for books my whole life!

As early as two years of age I remember coveting books.

Adults had books. Adults could peer into a book and pull something out of it. I didn’t yet know what reading was called, but I saw the results—people communicating by deriving messages from the pages of a book.

My mom encouraged my interest in books. She read to us from “Winnie the Pooh” giving voices to all the characters. This impressed my older brother so much that when he went to kindergarten he complained that the teacher reading to class wasn’t using the correct voices!

Also, a reading child didn’t need much supervision.

I learned to read before I was 4 years old. I wanted the power that reading brought—the power to sit alone and think, imagine, and understand. With the ability to read I became independent. In my family, if you were reading, people left you alone—no interruptions. So reading brought the gift of time.

Later my mother learned that books also bred subversiveness; but that’s a tale for another day.

My Dilemma 

Now I’m faced with a dilemma.

A lifetime of books clogs the house. Shelving has been placed in every room except the bathrooms. 

Dick has almost as many books as I have. (OK maybe he has half as many books as I do.)

And we are downsizing preparatory to a move.

I actually tried to donate a vast portion of my books to a couple schools. They didn’t want them.

We even found what was close to the perfect house but it didn’t have enough space for the books. (Unfortunately it also needed a garage tear down and rebuild that would have necessitated the excavation of a hill and the removal of two one-hundred year old trees but mainly there wasn’t space for books.)

I’m not ready to get rid of all my books at this point. I still use them; I still refer to them. Many are no longer in print.

I started thinking what I could do about this plenitude of books.

When Stressed Lose Yourself in a Book (Really, That’s a Thing)

I’ve been reading Franny Moyle’s  Turner: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner. (I’m not connected to Amazon, but you can read about the book there.)

Each morning after I finish my two games of Sudoku I pick up her biography of the 19th century British artist Turner and read a chapter.

Moyle has written a marvelous book transforming Turner’s life into a ripping adventure. She understands not only his place in art, but what it is to be a working artist. And she has painted her own sort of picture—a picture of the times in which he lived, with all the connections to other art luminaries (or lesser gods) and historical events woven together in a way that is the most comprehensive explanation of influences and context on his life I’ve ever read. 

She has pored through records, rosters, diaries, and letters and come up with the best surveillance report EVER. (Read her book!)

With Sudoku pencil in hand I read, and underline, and scribble notes.

And then I see the real problem is me. (Isn’t it always?)

The Real Problem

We will never be able to sell my books.

I am a margin scribbler. I am a professional editor and proofreader who corrects typos and reforms grammar as I go. I am an annotator. I make cramped notes throughout my books. The margins overflow. I underline, I spill asterisks across a page spread.

I argue heatedly with the authors I read, I pause to offer congratulations to authors long dead.

I jot references to other books and other authors who once expressed the same or very divergent opinions. I allow my mind to wander and then list connections that spring up for future research. I write down the names of other authors I can enlist who might bolster my thoughts on a subject.

In sort, in my books, I have created a web of connectivity between all the volumes—whether a book on beading, illustration, the science of bread baking, or the bug cultures that form on a decomposing body.

The margins of my books contain a layered and complex map of my brain and my thought process. 

That map is intimate, revelatory, sometimes bombastic, almost always embarrassing, often funny, usually morbid…All that I am simultaneously.

How Did This Happen?

When I was younger I used index cards. So many of the books I read as a child were library books. And I would never write in a book I didn’t own. (All the more fodder for my book greed.)

I stored the index cards in a multi-drawer library card-catalog file.

Young people today probably don’t even know what that is. You can see a photo of one here.  Or a Google search will show that vendors like Wayfair sell “storage” furniture designed like library card catalogs—but with drawers sized to hold DVDs and other odds and ends. Long live the nostalgia of wooden furniture and brass drawer pulls!

I had a real-decommissioned library card catalog file.

But once I got out of graduate school I could afford to buy books. In an instant all prohibitions against writing in books evaporated. Poof.

In fact my favorite date night with Dick was a browse in our favorite local books stores (this is B.A.; Before Amazon). He would look at the photography books. I would gather eclectic and seemingly mis-matched books which were allowing me to build my interconnected theory of everything—art, history, philosophy, science, popular culture, film, television…

In short the raw materials that led me to develop my “many enthusiasms.” 

My voraciousness was such that I filled the drawers in the card file. Finally I couldn’t take time to write out all the notes I was writing, because my notes for a book ended filling filing files within multiple four-drawer file cabinets.  

Then I caved.

I gave up card filling and stopped filling file folders. I simply counted on my memory to hold it all book-like in my brain. I knew there were things that I could easily look up—even before the Internet.

I let go of almost all of Shakespeare (the quotes, scenes, plots, etc.) because my college mentor could fill me in on all that.

And so grew my habit of collecting “experts” who were actually “files” of a sort. (If I love you I know right now you are asking yourself which “expert” are you.)

Letting go of literature, since I wasn’t going to teach it, was actually easy.

Letting go of literature allowed so much more space in my brain for all the information of the great plagues, poisons, and companion planting gardening methods.

The library is now what I always wanted, that which replaces the card file, because I have the source material.

If Dick and I have a discussion in which we disagree, or in which he wants some background (I am the liberal arts expert and history buff he collected) I rattle something off and if necessary can go and retrieve a book on the subject.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I don’t have a solution to the current dilemma.

I realize something broader. That this is the result of middle-class living, leisure time, boundless curiosity, inexpensive printing methods, and of course, something deeply ingrained in man in general.

We all collect in some way or another. And as we live longer and longer we have more stuff.

For some it’s that collection of baseball cards, cars (fancy, antique, or sports), outdoor gear, boats, houses, enameled silver souvenir teaspoons, knit doilies, leather postcards, fashion dolls and accessories, Funko Pop! Television Walking Dead Collectible Toys, artworks, Wedgewood pottery, comic books, vinyl records, vintage blouses, wine, Rolex watches, postage stamps, movies on DVDs  (or ack—VCR tapes?! Get rid of them)—whatever.

At some point all this gathering simply wears us down and we expire—leaving a heap of things that no one else sees the sense of—but which tells the story of our lives.

I have instructed Dick to burn all my books when I die.

Not my journals. No.

My books—the printed books I’ve read.

Those are the books with which I’ve had my most intimate conversations. No one really needs to put themselves through that by reading those books.

And I would die of embarrassment. If, of course I weren’t already dead when they read them!

Dick is to start with Elements of Drawing, by John Ruskin.

You see long ago, I had the fun idea, “Gee wouldn’t it be great if I knew someone who knows the great Sir Ian McKellen—he could read Ruskin in his wonderful voice, and every now and then I could interrupt in my own cartoon voice.” The template is all there in my fourth copy of the book. (Earlier copies having been lost, and in one case stolen!)

It’s best that book go first.

Unless of course you happen to know Sir Ian McKellen. Text me.

    • Dana Burrell
    • October 14, 2019

    I have an awesome library! They own it and I should have it tomorrow… good background reading prior to my visit to the exhibit. (Gotta finish Tina Fey’s Bosspants first.)

    1. Reply

      Dana, YES! You need to read that book before you go to the show. I love Tina Fey, Bossypants is FANTASTIC!!!!!!!) I’m so bad, I had to order it and buy it when it came out. I couldn’t wait.

    • Rachel Kopel
    • October 14, 2019

    I love this and I love you. I too am greedy for books and due to room and circumstances have had to let many go. If you don’t mind settling for pennies on the dollar it is possible to sell some books, but not many. Donations can sometimes be accomplished through library book sales. The library does not actually want them for their shelves. You mention that you can not sell yours because they are written in. Surprise, you can not sell most of them because nobody wants them, written in or not. No harm, no foul. There are a couple of excellent articles reassuring us that we are not at fault and not alone. Not that that helps.
    You might enjoy Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. Whoops, another book to read. 🙄

    1. Reply

      Thanks Rachel. I’m so glad you enjoyed this. I read it to Dick and we laughed and laughed. I thought about putting and audio version up. It’s very dramatic (even in my cartoon voice).

      Thanks for the note about HEIOTLAYORFH by Susan Hill. I hadn’t heard of it. I don’t forget that have books, and I always read mine (well there are maybe 10 Ih haven’t got around to yet out of thousands) but it’s a fun thing and I’m glad she went around her house and rediscovered things.

      I need those collapsing shelves you see in records offices where you can search census and stuff like that!!! A whole large room of those and I’ll be set.

        • Dana Burrell
        • October 16, 2019

        Oh boy… does that bring up memories! I loved those collapsing shelving units. I worked in a Radiology Dept before digital and we kept patient’s radiographs on those shelves. I was fascinated that they would move so smoothly given how heavy the materials were!

        1. Reply

          I so want those shelves!!! I was watching Louis Gates Jr’s ancestry show and they have a genealogist using one in the “B-roll” footage.

    • Sharon Nolfi
    • October 15, 2019

    Your description of date night with Dick being browsing in a bookstore reminded me of many late nights my husband and I would spend in independent bookstores during the 1970s in L.A. We started buying books then and never stopped. We, too, are trying to downsize from a big house. It’s painful to part from the books that shaped the person you are! I understand your dilemma completely.

      • Joanne Kalvaitis
      • October 15, 2019

      Any book lover, avid reader will empathize with this post Roz. I learned to read to escape at a very early age too. As I matured I led such a crazy life my books gradually all fell away. I was still reading, but the books themselves couldn’t keep up with me. I love notes in books. I buy then specifically to use in collage, but then simply can’t cut them up so photocopy pages I like.
      My books all go to thrift stores, tho I notice I’m building a small eclectic collection again as I’m aging and have had to stay rooted.

      Thanks Roz

      1. Reply

        Thrift store donations is a good idea! Thanks Joanne.

        • Teresa
        • October 16, 2019

        I feek SO identified! Couldn’t even borow books from the universiry library when I was studying History of Arts… After retiring I found a school which received about 200 history books I was sure I would’t go back to, but I cannot let go of any others… and keep adding!

        1. Reply

          Teresa, I hope you get great joy from your collection!

    1. Reply

      Thanks for understanding Sharon. Right now I’m giving up more than books so the books aren’t so much painful as bittersweet.

    • KarlaRose Erhard-Hudson
    • October 15, 2019

    Only…what if (heaven forbid) Dick dies first? Do you have a backup plan for who will burn the books (which seems like a tragedy to me–there must be someone who would treasure all the annotations, etc.

    1. Reply

      Well if Dick dies first (which he believes he won’t so we never really talk about that) then I’ll just find someone else to do this when I die. I have a couple friends who have young children, and if I live to be older they would I’m sure gladly do this as I’m going to be leaving them things.

      1. Reply

        When I moved from South Africa to Australia almost nine years ago I was faced with packing my life and possessions into a small container. I didn’t tend to keep novels since I belonged to a book club so I only kept my share of the books we read.
        Art books, however, were another matter. In the end I kept them all and rather sold off some furniture I knew I could replace – and which didn’t really have a place in my heart. I also had years and years of art magazines. These, I realised, were more easily disposed of but not before I had mined them for useful articles that could be used for teaching.
        Bringing all my books with me was really reassuring since they were part of my life. I knew I would be teaching but I didn’t realise just how important the books would be.
        Good luck with the move – and more importantly the sorting and culling of possessions that has to happen first – that’s the hard part.

        1. Reply

          Carol, thanks for the helpful thoughts on this. I have stopped teaching (or am in the process of stopping) and all the books kept for teaching have already gone. (I got rid of them about 3 years ago, long story). Now what remains, really, are things that I love, and like to look at and refer to for myself.

          I’m glad you kept your reference books for teaching!

    • Cathy
    • October 15, 2019

    I, too, treasure books! We lived in Tripoli when I was four (Air Force family) . There were two first grades, but only enough books to teach reading for one class at a time. Since we had to wait six months for our books, I learned to treasure them.
    Roz, have you read “The Library Book”? I couldn’t put it down!

    1. Reply

      Cathy, I haven’t read “the Library Book” yet. It’s sitting on the pile of “new” books. During the surgery months I just stuck with light mystery reading. I’m looking forward to “The Library Book” as people keep recommending it. Thanks so much!

    • Vicky Kirby
    • October 15, 2019

    I too have favorite memories w/my husband of searching out used book stores for many a treasured memory and book find. “Bookfinder”, long defunct, was our guide-it listed all independent booksellers in no. Calif. It was our standard date night before and after we got married, oh, and visits to the old Bookshop Santa Cruz (love). When we left Santa Cruz, Legos bookstore bought literally hundreds of our books and I cried. You know, there is a still a love of books out there and maybe donating to a local college group who could just put them out for free to the campus, or maybe a one time trip to a campus to just put out free books. This said by someone who has literally a ton of books stashed in the garage because every single nook of our house has been filled! Maybe a book funeral pyre like the Trojan movie is a fitting end But Brad Pitt and Peter O’Toole won’t be there. 🙂

    1. Reply

      Vicky, you made me remember that there are all sorts of little “free” libraries around the Twin Cities. I think I can just take a carload of books and drive around and leave a few in each place. Then they can go on to someone else’s life. Some will still have to be burned though!

        • Dana Burrell
        • October 16, 2019

        The Little Free Libraries are perfect for this. I reread the Harry Potter series before donating mine, dropping a book at a time. They were always gone the next day. I’ve even found a few art instruction books that were interesting enough to take home, read, and then return for someone else’s enjoyment.

        1. Reply

          Dana, yesterday I was thinking about these when responding to someone else. When the folks were alive there was one right near them and I used to take books and drop them off there. Now that I’m driving again (I just started driving again on Sunday—a little painful for more than 20 minutes but it is only a 10-minute drive to Wet Paint!!!!) I can start this habit of dropping off books in them again!

            • Dana Burrell
            • October 17, 2019

            Driving = Freedom… YAY!!!

          1. I’m looking forward to more of it! And to getting back to Como Zoo!

    • Corinne McNamara
    • October 15, 2019

    A few years ago, we had a small flood from the kitchen into the living/dining rooms that necessitated replacing damaged hardwood floors. That meant moving everything out for a while. My husband and I had different opinions about reorganizing and I hired professional help. We’ve lived in the same house for 40 years and raised 3 kids – we really needed to downsize!
    The two main priorities were that 1) we don’t have enough room for everything, and 2) the living room isn’t for storage. The bookshelves were the first area we addressed (the least controversial!). The organizers brought us piles of our books and helped us sort: keep (still using), think about it (not ready to let go), donate or pass on (interests/needs have changed but good enough for someone else), and discard (same as “donate” but damaged, outdated, or otherwise not useful, e.g. encyclopedias and magazines!).
    We still have a lot of books., but I feel less overwhelmed. I have no regrets about anything that I let go. You have me thinking it’s time for a second sort-through. Having a bit more space feels good.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Corinne. I’m an organizer at heart and the criteria your professionals had you use are the ones I’ve used to clear out other collections of stuff—like all my clay tools, my beading paraphernalia etc. But books, being the first collection, and the largest, and the one that is always in constant use, it’s a bit more difficult. I know having more space will be great, because we will actually have less space when we move, based on where I want to move and the sizes of houses there. The back stairs is lined with boxes of books and I’ll be starting with them soon—mostly books that I designed and kept for professional reasons and really don’t need, they can all go. I think that will help me build momentum. Good luck with your sorting. (Now if I could only stop bringing more books into the house!!!)

    • Gail Hight
    • October 15, 2019

    Oh Roz, you are so dear! I can see that I am in excellent company. We are currently adding on to our home to accommodate (among other things) my ridiculous book collection, mostly art books, cookbooks, gardening and non-fiction you-name-it. Those books are a constant source of reference and inspiration. I have an easier time letting go of fiction, but that moves very slowly toward the donation box. I’ve become very systematic about tossing magazines after 6 months. Our local library has two annual sales, so I generally donate to them. My husband has his own collection of construction, fishing, geology and wine-making books and I’ve allowed him some space on the shelves too. A bonfire at my death will be recommended, after I’ve let my art friends have first pick before starting the fire. And thanks for the new book recommendations, I really needed those!

    1. Reply

      You’ve unknowingly hit on another problem I have that dovetails into this one—as I leave teaching and sketching because of my cataract surgery result I have started to return to cooking and baking (a graduate school love made difficult the past 20 years because of house renos that stopped before being finished). And of course I’m not eagerly picking up cookbooks. EEEEE.

      I will donate books to a library sale as you suggest, the ones not written in too much that is, I think that would be a good pass along and potential for someone to get money for them for a great cause.

      I couldn’t let my friends have their pick…we’d be back to that die of embarrassment issue I wrote about!!!

    • Suhita Shirodkar
    • October 15, 2019

    Roz, he’s easy to find, he’s here : 🙂

    1. Reply

      I’d need the Facebook page to his agent! Or a friend of his at least. I couldn’t just contact him “directly.” For me, as I sit here laughing thinking about it, it would just be so “wrong.” Probably my fatal flaw.

    • Jenneke
    • October 16, 2019

    10 years ago, when I was preparing to move across several Canadian provinces, I had the movers come to give an estimate…however, when it came time for the truck to be weighed, it was quite a bit heavier than had been estimated–due to all the boxed books. Sigh. Now, I try to satisfy my lust for books at the library. Last week I had 65 out!

    1. Reply

      I don’t know how we made so many trans-Pacific moves as a family with all the books my family (growing up) had—all readers and collectors of books. I will remember your example!

    • Ellen Fetters
    • October 17, 2019

    Dear Roz,
    My love for books and reading also began with 4. Being an Air Force brat also meant moving a lot and parting with favorite books(!). During my adult life I continued to voraciously buy and consume books, then have to move and part with my beloved books again for weight and cost reasons. As a translator I needed reference books and dictionaries, so my collection steadily grew.
    My solution today (at 55): I have a ScanSnap scanner; I cut my books apart and feed them through the scanner where they are then stored/filed as a PDF file. Hundreds of my books are now stored on an external drive which I can plug into any electronic device to read (I like having several books open at once on screen so I can flip back and forth). I then had the courage to toss the remains of the book into the recycle bin. Perhaps an idea for you so that you can burn your own books 😉

    1. Reply

      I think this is a very useful idea Ellen. I have to store so much other digital data because of my work as a graphic designer that what’s another library!?! I appreciate you sharing this idea.

    • Melanie
    • October 17, 2019

    If after you have let your copy of Ruskin’s The Elements of Drawing go, and you find
    yourself wanting to read it again, Project Gutenberg has an e-book of it online and freely open to the public. It won’t be the same but it might help ease the pain in having to let it go.

    1. Reply

      Melanie, several of my students have used this copy of Elements so I knew about it—but you reminded me to look there because I think there might be a lot of books on there that would mean I could let go of mine!

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