Well-Loved and Falling Apart

15 02 2010

books i've loved

Every once in a while, maybe a couple times a year, I get obsessed with organizing my books. Being a writer and a fairly avid reader, I of course have a lot of books, although I do a fair amount of purging when I organize them and, as I get older, find myself giving away or selling more books that I just know I’ll never read. Intellectual vanity becomes less and less important the older one gets, and there comes a point when one just has to admit to oneself that the fact that a book has sat on the shelf for a good five years without once being cracked open probably means it will never be read in that particular home, and should be passed on to someone else who might actually enjoy it. During today’s book-organizing round, the books I’ve decided to pass on include Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, two books on anarchism, and redundant copies of books by Audre Lorde and James Baldwin.

On the other hand, there are books that I’ve read so much, that are so well-loved that I kept them despite the fact that they were probably not in great shape when I first got them (or ‘liberated’ them from my school library, as it were), and that then deteriorated even more in the years since. I thought it would be interesting to pull these books out off of my shelves to see what they were, and also to remind me to replace them someday with more handle-able, less torn and thumbed-through versions. As I wrote about in an earlier, also provocatively-titled post, the condition of the books I read has been only a recent consideration for me. It’s partially because I’m getting older and having the means to consider buying newer, perhaps hardcover versions of books I love, and also that I have realized that I may actually want to leave these books for my future children or other loved ones (or just Posterity), but I’ve actually been wondering if I should replace these very well-loved, well-read and falling-apart books.

Now, there’s something to be said in my mind about keeping these books—torn and tattered and often coverless though they are—the way some people keep old teddy bears or other childhood toys even though they’re not so pretty anymore. The love shows on these shabby but sentimentally important objects, I guess you could say, and in a world where new seems to be better, this means something to me. So I haven’t decided whether to chuck / recycle these old books, or to keep them in some storage unit in my apartment, like a literary time capsule, so that I can pull them out someday and see just what were some of the books that had such a huge influence on me.

It’s interesting to see what these titles are, as well, for they do say something about my literary interests. The oldest raggedy book is a paperback copy of the first volume of the classic compendium The Greek Myths, by British poet, scholar and novelist Robert Graves. It was also likely the first book I ever stole from a library—specifically, when I was in fourth or fifth grade. Greek mythology, as anyone knows, is a veritable soap opera-like collection of stories filled with enough kinky sex, barbaric violence and political intrigue to make our modern-day television shows and so-called avant garde books look mild in comparison. I mean, the Greek goddess Athena was supposedly birthed, fully-armed, from her father Zeus’ head after he ATE her mother Metis because he wanted to literally swallow her intelligence! The little girl Rona thought this was all fascinating, and was thrilled to find that such scandalous literature was not only freely available but also encouraged. My grammar school teachers were equally thrilled that I was so interested in classical Greek mythology.

The second of my tattered texts is by another British writer, George Orwell, the dystopic classic 1984. This book blew my mind too, and I’m pretty sure I also stole this one from my school library, now that I look at it and see the ‘Good Shepherd School’ stamp on the inside cover. Orwell has influenced my writing in that I am often drawn to writing futuristic work that may not be dystopic all the time, but that definitely has dystopic elements.

Two of my other well-loved, well-worn books are by women, and will likely get replaced, although my current copy of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which is a revisioning of the King Arthur legend, has a lot of sentimental value to me as it was a gift. And The Heart is the Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, was another library liberation. What a bad girl I was—geeky, but bad.

Do you have any books that you’ve loved and read so much that they are falling apart? What are they, and where / when did you get them?

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2 responses

16 02 2010
JV

Ah yes. Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis. Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Suzuki Roshi.

5 03 2010
claire

no. i’ve replaced my best loved books many times, or else have different copies in different places (since i’ve moved so often in my life.) i’ve also worked in a couple of bookstores, so i tend to have a lot of books i bought wholesale with my employee discount. i’m a big believer in buying books.

you should check out paperbackswap.com, which is a place where you can exchange books you no longer want for books you do want … for free — or for the cost of postage. you pay to send your books to whomever wants them, and then you can order free books on the site and the original owner pays to send them to you. very cool.

let’s see, i probably don’t have a single copy of pride and prejudice on me, but i have three at my parents’ house. and there are two or three copies of the dark is rising running around somewhere. my orwell essays is falling apart, but that’s only because my copy is one of those mid-century paperbacks with the cool modular design, and can’t be replaced.

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