Releasing well-loved books into the wild
One of the best things my parents ever bought me was a $3 library card. I grew up in Mount Carmel, Tennessee and after I read all the books in the library there (it was a very, very small library) my Mom and Dad scraped together three precious dollars and let me get a card for the Kingsport, Tennessee library.
It was a magnificent place. A temple to reading. They would allow me to check out 12 books at a time. It was there I discovered that Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were not the best books Mark Twain wrote. Not even close. I read them all, including Letters from the Earth, the book his estate would not allow to be published until all of his friends and family died. After plowing through Twain, I would find an author I liked, start with his or her first book, and read them all.
I didn’t know that in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, there was a young woman doing the same thing.
Long before we met we engaged in the same passions. We are readers. Challenging books. Travel books. Art histories. I read contemporary American fiction. She reads books about the great world religions and art history. We both take pleasure in reading. The sacred ceremonial art of it. A cup of coffee or tea. A cocktail or a glass of wine or port. A comfortable chair. Good light. On many mornings, long before we found each other, we would wake in empty beds with only the book we were reading the night before splayed out on the covers. Ravaged.
We were both farm-raised. These books have been our constant companions. Before we actually traveled the world, we traveled the universe in our own minds with books in our hands. She moved her library to college, Los Angeles and back and then to the home we share in Nashville. I moved my library to college, then to Nashville and from home to home to home there and finally to reside with her books.
Three years ago, we got married and combined our libraries. We didn’t go through the books then but, because we are moving, we decided to give away most of the books.
We read electronic books now, access quotes and do research online, listen to audio books. We both hate clutter. We kept about 200 books. Books we love. Family Bibles. The best Quran we had out of the multiple ones we had collected separately. Some classics. Thoughtful gifts from friends and family. We found two copies of several books we had both read before we met. I kept hardbacks by Hemingway, Mailer, Hunter Thompson, Ayn Rand and a few more authors. She kept books by her favorite writers and books that were particularly important to her.
Today, I took 580 of them to a place that buys and sells used books.
It occurs to me that because we have each other now, perhaps we are not as reliant on these silent companions as we once were. Maybe that’s why we were able to let them go. We didn’t discard them. We set them free.
Perhaps they will be a comfort to others. Those books need to go live out their lives as we will, in the company of good people, good books, good conversation and with the occasional glass of wine. We hope those books are loved by their new owners as we loved them and as we now love each other.