Posts Tagged With: books

“Simplify, Simplify”?

“Our life is frittered away by detail. . . . Simplify, simplify.”  So Henry David Thoreau pronounces in chapter two of Walden.  I am trying, truly I am, to follow his advice. But lord, it’s hard.

Maybe Thoreau could live in a tiny one-room house for a short period of time.  Maybe he could live with only a rudimentary wardrobe.  I can’t seem to manage either.

Since retirement, and specifically since Dad died, I’ve been trying to simplify my life.  In trying to sort through and purge the accumulations of decades (some moved from state to state, house to apartment to house), I am perplexed.  Just how did I manage to acquire all this stuff?

Kitchen:  Once a year, I pull out all the pots and pans and plastic containers in the kitchen cabinets.  I throw out anything worn out or useless.  I give away what I don’t need.  I usually discover duplicates of some things.  This is an on-going process.

Clothes?  I’ve actually done an okay job, at least in terms of a yearly attack of purging and giving away/donating and throwing out.  Yet I have to do more — I will simply never wear dozens of t-shirts, no matter how gripping or amusing the quotation/text/motto printed.  And why do I have so many tops?  So many pairs of shoes?  (Okay, I get the shoes.  I’m a shoe-aholic.  Yet I am controlled in purchasing new shoes.  Sort of. Not Imelda Marcos-level in shoe purchases.)

Especially since retiring, I’ve been periodically returning to purge more and more clothes.  At least I have thrown out what’s worn out.

Then consider the books.  There, too, is kind of an excuse:  I taught literature and writing at university.  I read.  I read a lot.  I have hundreds of books, lining shelves of various bookcases.  There are bookcases in almost every room of my house.  There are books in boxes on the floor of my back room — books I mean to donate or give away.  I’ve done a fair job over the last few years of reducing my square footage of books.  Now I’m ready to tackle that problem again after not having time to do so. I’ve sorted and thus the boxes — but now I must figure out what to do with the books that are going away.  This summer I resolved to sort through the academic books spanning British literature and American literature and reduce what I keep.  I know I won’t teach again, and so rationally know that others might well use the books.  But again, I find it difficult to actually follow through with the rational recognition that it’s simply time to let them go.  Or at least to let a lot of them go.

I’ve decided to be ruthless — I don’t need the Norton editions of so many books.  Only some.  I don’t need the British literature texts.  Just Shakespeare.  And A.S. Byatt.  And a few more.  But my shelves of Faulkner and Southern literature and criticism?  Those have to stay for a while.

Autographed texts?  Those stay.

Contemporary poetry?  Stays.

Books on Greece and Greek language?  No question at all — those stay.

And the travel books are here for keeps too — at least the books about travel.  The out-of-date guides, though, will be purged.

Since I am an avid reader of “junk” fiction, I have accumulated dozens of paperbacks — mysteries, science fiction, fantasy.  I’ve gotten rid of a lot.  Yet there are still so many I can’t quite let go of.  At least now I buy in e-book form.

Only this afternoon I’ve been working on re-organizing the books I want in my office, close to where I’ll need them.  The craft books.  The books on publishing.  The books on poetry forms.  The books on non-fiction.  Decorating books?  Those will go elsewhere in the house.

Magazines?  I’ve thrown out bags and bags of these, yet where did the stacks on the bookshelves in the living room appear from?  Those I plan to tackle one day next week, ready to dump most of them.

And just where did all of these duplicates of things appear?  How/why did I end up with five staplers of various sizes and shapes?  With multiple tape dispensers?  And pens?  With various colors of ink?  I will keep one large and one small stapler for here, keep one of each for the beach house, and put the rest in the garage-sale pile of “stuff.”

Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that some items are boxed and only now am I sorting through boxes, discovering that I’ve bought multiples simply because I didn’t realize what I had.  There are items from my work office at the university.

And then there are the boxes of “I’ll deal with this later.”  It’s later.  It’s time.

I’ll never be able to reduce my footprint so much that I could live like Thoreau in his cabin at Walden Pond.  But I fantasize about at least eliminating and purging what I simply don’t use or need.

Record-keeping and sorting through files?  Imposing order and labeling — that’s what I’m doing now.  I’ve dumped lots of teaching files, but not all.  Research files?  Those are staying.

My nightmare?  That I’ll end up a star on television — on Hoarders.

Don’t even think about the 10×15 storage unit that has what Kay and I have moved from Dad’s house (and in which some of my overflow acquisitions are stored).  Most of my own stored stuff has been purged and sorted already — once or twice.  I will attack it again, too.

Daily I think about two issues — accumulating and cluttering.  I make headway weekly.

Clutter?   I keep plugging away at organizing and controlling it as well.  Much improved in this endeavor, but not yet conquered.  Of course, you understand I’ve bought books on controlling clutter, which only contributes both to the book problem and the clutter problem.

Clutter. Chaos.  Cheryl.  Do you see the destiny revealed in those three C words?

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A Bookworm’s Confession

The carpet’s in, most of the inside renovations are completed, and today I got to sleep late.  No one was coming to work, it was dialysis day, and I planned on enjoying a day of relative leisure.

Even without setting an alarm, I woke up about 7.  Unlike most days, though, I could simply turn back over, close my eyes, and go back to dreamland.  It was heavenly.

Even when I woke up, about 8:30, I didn’t really have to get up, so I opened up the iPad Kindle app and started reading.  One thing I usually manage to find time for is books.

My love of books goes back to childhood.  My mother always told people she potty-trained me thanks to bribery.  She knew she was onto something — she promised me Little Golden Books and lace-trimmed panties.  I was hooked on books.  Dad will tell you that the problem became not convincing me to go to the bathroom, but getting out of it.  I have a vivid memory of my little potty chair and a rather tall stack of Little Golden Books.

In the summer before sixth grade I discovered the parish library would let me check out 10 books a week.  I ran through books that summer like a drowning person seeks air.  The joy of roaming the stacks expanded beyond the small school library I had access to in Egan.  That was the summer that I discovered science fiction, the great science fiction of writers like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Andre Norton.  This was 1962, remember, so much of the science fiction of the 50s and early 60s had post-apocalyptic settings that reverberated after Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  Other topics included space travel and exploration.  I had a new love, thanks to that summer’s discovery.  I still enjoy re-reading Heinlein and the others.

By seventh grade, I had exhausted the library at Egan, which actually included a high-school library since Egan had a high school until the summer after my first-grade year.  My reading was voracious — anything that caught my eye got checked out.

Beyond the world available through library cards, I began accumulating my own library. Every Christmas my wish list included books.  Depending on my interests and obsessions, the titles changed from year to year.  Sometimes it was Nancy Drew books; other times, Trixie Belden.  Then in 9th grade English we read Romeo and Juliet, and that Christmas I asked for three of the four volumes of Shakespeare’s plays that the Sears catalog listed.  I guess the history plays only grabbed me in college, because that’s the volume I skipped then.

Somewhere along the line, I started buying my own books.  For college classes, for graduate school classes, for teaching . . . for any reason at all.  I didn’t really need much of an excuse.  I don’t think I ever really got rid of any, either.  Some were still here in Egan while others moved with me from dorm to apartment to apartment to house. Books followed me everywhere, but every time I moved there were more of them, and those boxes were heavy to lift and carry.

Now I find myself trying to minimize and downsize.   What is hardest for me to get rid of?  Books.  They’re everywhere in my house in Lake Charles, in every room.  I have double rows of paperbacks; some of these are so old that they cost $1.25.  I have two 8’x4′ bookcases that my brother built for me.  They’re packed.  I have an old library bookcase that is nearly 8 feet tall and about 3 feet wide; it easily holds double-deep shelves.  There are three other smaller bookcases, also full.  And there are boxes of books I’ve got selected to get ride of.  And that’s only in one room, the back “library.”  There’s a small bookcase in my bedroom.  There are three bookcases in the living room.  I have professional books and books for hobbies.  I have fun books, “junk” books.  What I face now:  the desire to simplify my life, to downsize, and to give some of the books away or sell some.

That goes against nearly 60 years of habitual collecting, but I am leaning toward paring down — at least as much as I can.

Even here in Egan I have books.  My childhood books are here, and they’re staying.

Books are lovely — I love to walk into a bookstore with old books.  It’s hard to resist, but I try.  I am trying not to live like a hoarder, though for me the rooms would be filled with books, not sacks of garbage or newspapers.

The advent of e-books now allows me the freedom of buying books without taking up shelf space or floor space.  I like that.  Nothing really replaces a real book, but the ease of traveling with one device and dozens of books, that can hold even more books — that is attractive, believe me.

I’m one of those people who goes to sleep with a book in the bed.  Who’s kidding?  I used to go to sleep with half the bed filled with books.  Now, though, it’s the iPad.  One device but many, many books.

Tomorrow, one of my tasks is to take books out of boxes and put them back on shelves.  These are not my books, mind you — they’re my dad’s.  My love of books is a family one, you see.  Everyone in our family is a reader.

Many times you’ll see us in after-holiday-meal stupor, sitting or lying around, napping.  But each of us also usually has a book with us as we nap.  It’s also pretty common to see us gathered in the same room, silent.  We’re all awake, but each of us has a book.

Books were how I discovered the world beyond Egan, beyond Louisiana, beyond Texas.  They’re how I discovered the pyramids of Egypt and the mythologies of Greece and Scandinavia.  They’re how I learned history.

Every day, I read.  Some days I may only read a few pages, usually at least a few chapters.  Sometimes I simply read for hours, even all night, if the book pulls me in so much that I can’t stop until I”m done.

Just this week, I’ve read a new book on Hawaii and one on the real-life inspiration for the Downton Abbey series.  That doesn’t count the new murder mystery by Susan Wittig Albert.  And it’s only Wednesday.

Tomorrow the contractor will be back — if it’s dry enough for him to work under the house.  That means I’ll get up about 7 a.m.  I can work on putting books up.

But in the meantime, it’s time to grab the iPad and open the Kindle app . . . and throw myself into another book.

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