Saturday, January 26, 2013

In Cold Blood

All at once the scales were removed from my eyes (as the Bible says) and I can see.  I can see that I have too much stuff.  I’ve been reading about these micro apts. Mayor Bloomberg is having built in NYC that are 300 sq. feet (more about those in another blog). I’m going to pretend that’s all the space I have and “get rid of.” My first divestiture attempt is the overflowing stacks of books I’ve collected over the years. I called a neighborhood vintage bookseller and she agreed to come and look at what I had.  That call was the only thing I did that day that’s how exhausting it was to think of peeling myself away from my belongings.

I dragged out about one hundred books and laid them on every surface of the living room.  I began to get nervous.  What if, like Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest the woman looked at my books and uttered the collector’s equivalent of that bitchy line “What a dump!”

I decided to prepare myself the way mothers prepare their children for a flu shot. 
The doctor’s going to take a needle and prick your arm. 
No, no.  It’s going to hurt.  
It will only hurt for a second and then you’ll get a treat. 

I said: 
Consuelo, what are you hoping to get out of this?
A good home for the books and maybe a few bucks.
Suppose she comes in and says, I’m looking for serious first editions or rare books.  Your books are pedestrian.
She won’t say that.
She might just walk out and that would be the same thing.
Yes, that could happen. 
How will that make you feel?
Ashamed and delusional.
Why don’t you think about it now so you can be prepared.
I thought about it for a minute or two.
Ok. I’m prepared.

The woman came. She filled three quarters of a box with books leaving 95% of the inventory.  She spoke three succinct sentences at the appropriate moments:  Hello.  I won’t need another box.  How about forty dollars? I had the nerve to ask , “Can you make it fifty?”  She nodded and gave me cash.   When I pointed out several books I thought might sell well, she said: “Condition issue.” Hemingway would have loved this woman’s dialogue.  She took two copies of In Cold Blood.  Joan Didion’s Play it as it Lays.  Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie. The Letters of Virginia Woolf (I will miss those high-strung crazies in the Bloomsbury crowd), Catcher In The Rye, a dvd of Duke Ellington and a couple of children’s books.  I gave her an Annie Dillard galley for free. 

When she left I was exhausted.  I thought it was from nervousness or dragging out all those books but it was something else.  She had broken the spell of “holding on.” I could hardly wait to pack up the rest of the books and everything else I didn’t need and take it to a good home and away from mine.


  1. every time i move, my shoe-shopper friend ends up with moving the books. and she does not read. and when she reshelves them, the books get stacked upside down and backwards.... over the years, i let everyone know how i have started to "let go", how i have shed myself of so many books. and yet when anyone comes to visit, there are more books here. how does that happen? one time i filled the back of my vehicle with boxes of books and delivered them to the library. halfway through hauling them into the lobby, a lady stopped me and asked what i was doing with all those books. i told her, i was donating. she asked me if she could look at my books- and in the end, i drove her to her tiny house and carried the rest of the truckload into her house. she was thrilled. and so was i. i bet i refilled my shelves at home with more books shortly thereafter. so, all this to say- proud of you! another time, one of my irish uncles decided to ship his books to me rather than let his kids inherit them. wonderful! but he kept getting my name wrong, or my address wrong. so he'd ship a big box of books, only to have it back on his doorstep, "undeliverable." eventually he figured out my last name and my real address and i inherited hundreds of fine books from him. he thought he would have passed away by now, but no he is still living. and now, he emails me- could he borrow this and that title back? the same uncle and my father call each other once a week. my dad had throat cancer and can barely talk. my uncle wears hearing aids that are not good for phone talk. but still, they talk. the uncle sends my father books quite often- books he has just finished and would like my dad to read so they can discuss it. one day dad got a 1200 page book from my uncle, with a note. "read this one fast, i borrowed it from the library and it is due back in two weeks."

    1. All the books are still in my car and I steal one or two of them every day to read, I promise myself that I will deliver them to the library but it hasn't happened. I don't know how this will end.

      Your comment would make a fine chapter in a fine book - one that I would keep and not give away.