I think I can put it down to the time when I was looking after Mom. I must have developed a phobia that I would not be able to read books because Time was getting swallowed up Big Time.
In the spare minutes of my busy life – full time job that often spilled into overtime, looking after Mom, major domo for our family of five – I began to pick up books that I would like to read when I was free of it all. In spare moments on a Saturday at a thrift shop or a church sale, the library book sale or the United Way sale at work, I pored over books and brought home the choice few that I would like to read…. when I had time.
But I never did get much of that commodity. So the books began to accumulate. They accumulated on my bookshelf. I began a second row of books, the tall ones behind and the pocket books in front. Then I graduated to books under the bed, and books in boxes. It got out of hand. I still can’t pass up a book that I think will be interesting to read.
When Mom passed away, I inherited the books from the family room – a whole wall of them. There were books in the study too – coffee table books, Canadian History, family history, dictionaries in several languages. Books signed by local authors. First edition books. A magnificent series of Colliers Encyclopedia bound in black with lettering and decorative stripes on the spine in gold, filled with burgundy in strategic places.
Father spent ages researching the best Encyclopedia. Of course, everyone uses Wikipedia now and I haven’t opened up the Colliers but once in the last three years, in search of a diagram of the digestive system.
I say, in the study, but there were two studies. Mother had one too. It was an academic family. Her books were chiefly about developmental education and many were specific to her specialty in the teaching of children with mental disabilities. Here, there were more books about music and theatre, two of her loves in the art world.
They both had belonged to a book club. It was essential to be up to date on current literature to be able to join discussions in the hallowed company of the university crowd. There was a strong representation of Canadian Literature on those shelves.
I had visited my dear aunt, Daisy, who, when she moved to a care home, liquidated the collection of her husbands collectible books – fine editions of Galsworthy, Shakespeare, Milton, Longfellow and many others.
I hadn’t understood what she was trying to do, when I went to visit her. She needed them all gone because she was moving to a small room. I felt I shouldn’t be greedy and took only two boxes of them. I dearly would have loved to have had more, but I restrained myself. Only to find out that she sent the remainder to the Salvation Army. I regretted that for a long time, repeating one of my mother’s adages over and over, “It’s only material things. Let it go. Let it go.”
But I didn’t let it go, obviously. What if I let that potential good read slip from my fingers next time I was out looking at books? If it was doubtful. I brought it home.
Well, you get the picture. I have a lot of books.
Then came the move.
Frank said, ” Why don’t you get rid of some of these books? They’ll be very expensive to move and just think of packing and moving them. Books are heavy.”
But I was obdurate. I was just coming to a point when I might have time to read.
“I want to keep them all. It’s what I’ve been waiting for. Just when I’m going to have time to read them, you are asking me to throw them out. No way!”
And I pack the books. He transported them box by heavy box. Bless his heart.
So I now have stacks of books in basement storage. I worry about them. Basements are notorious for mold though I haven’t seen any yet. I’ve had two day-long sessions sorting boxes and sending those I know I won’t read off to the thrift store. That entailed opening every box and reboxing what I wanted to keep. I lifted every one of those boxes, once to bring it out to the sort area and once packed, back to a new more compact stack of boxes. Boxes. Boxes. Boxes! I didn’t go to the gym those days. I was thankful that I had developed a strong back.
So, fast forward to this morning. I’m never too bright early in the day. It’s a time when my eyes are not too open and my brain not too active, and it’s ideal for culling and cleaning.
My eyes lit on the over-stacked book case upstairs. Books are stacked two deep. The top has book ends and holds horizontally stacked books that are about to topple. A luminous idea came to me that I might just sit in front of it and find some more books to go to the thrift.
So I sat on the floor and checked out each book. Would I read it? No? Then it had to go. There were a few exceptions. One with Mother’s name in her beautiful MacLean’s writing in front. A few leather bound books from the early 20th Century, gold glittering on the edges; gold lettering on the spine. My Uncle Arnold’s Longfellow, with black rippled pigskin binding. A few first editions. A few hand made art books. I’ll keep those for a while.
This one, though, is going to the thrift shop. Democracy and Education by John Dewey (1859-1952) , an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer. Not, in case you are wondering, the inventor of the Dewey decimal system. That was Mervil Dewey.
I thumbed through and wondered if I would read any of it. I found some interesting passages. But I know I’m not in for that kind of academic reading anymore. It’s going to go. I hope it will find another home with a book collector who will treasure it.
And inside the cover, my mother had pasted this. It’s a poem by John Robert Harris. I looked him up in Wikipedia and found nothing. On The Cornwall Guide website, there is a post that cites a John Harris, but I don’t know if it is the same one. If anyone can clarify, please do.
Here it is:
For such as this
Men lie in Flanders’ dust;
That we might live
To glorify their trust.
For such as this
Men, like the Gods of Time;
Rise to new heights
With deeds and thoughts sublime.
For love of this
Our Fathers worked and fought:
Upon these principles
Our heritage was wrought.
For this we live
And thank our God on high;
This is our heritage
For which men fight and die.
For this, we stand,
The Guardians of the Storm;
Our children’s hope
And that of those, unborn.
For such as these,
We pledge our very all
That they may live
And love, at Freedom’s call.
It was most likely written post-WWI. As such, it would be a perfect poem to read during Remembrance Day events. It struck me that these thoughts, though crafted in a style that we use very little now, are nonetheless valid today, and I got rather nostalgic for simpler times. But when I thought that through, those times were no simpler than those of today.
And here it ends. I offer you a confession of my book collecting sins, a poem and a bit of time for reflection on times gone by.