I’m not one of those people who can’t let go of books. Book shop customers often love to talk, and to talk about their love of books, and for some their book collections have an almost sacred character. They would never dream of letting them go, selling them, giving them away; it’s as if they are part of them, part of what makes them who they are. I wonder how far away some of them are from having some kind of hoarding disorder – you know, where your possessions are part of you, like your hair or nails, like a limb, and no matter that you can’t move in your house, the books must stay.
Last week I did a big cull of my bookshelves and donated 4 shopping bags of books to the Salvo’s Op Shop. The building has decent-sized eaves out the front, and it’s under those that we locals pile our bags and boxes of donations when the shop’s not open. There was so much other stuff piled up outside that my bags weren’t really under cover; when I drove past the following morning I realised that they’d have sat all night in the rain (11mls in my rain gauge, so yes, quite a wetting). I was a bit distressed, actually. A waste of books. I didn’t want them anymore, and I wasn’t upset or sad to see them go. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they’d been your bog-standard ordinary paperbacks – thrillers or self-help or airport fiction –
But quite a few of them were my mother’s books, uniform Everyman volumes of Anglo-Saxon poetry and Jacobean plays – books on literature and language and drama, all with her name and address and the date inside, in that clear, left-slanting handwriting that never changed, not even when she was very old. I’d hoped that someone – the right person – would snap them up and treasure them. Some people can’t bear books that have been handled or owned (I have a friend who won’t borrow from the library) but I like a bit of personality with my books – inscriptions, names, dedications, bookplates…
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the bookshop where I work had a second-hand section. Tracey, the owner at the time, would often buy from deceased estates; whole libraries, hundreds of boxes, a life-time of reading and thinking and collecting. We both still remember one lot from an old lady in a nearby township. Each book was stamped in blue ink with
She had a fascinating collection – lots of European works in translation, lots of history, left-wing politics and philosophy, lots of poetry and literature. As I sorted and priced, I used to make up stories about her. I’ll always have a friendly feeling towards that cultured and interesting lady from Bienvenue and I hope that whoever buys Mum’s un-soggy books will feel the same about Helen Harris of Elsternwick.
Anyway, the moral of the tale is that next time I am donating books, they’ll be delivered while the shop was open. Or at the very least, packed in plastic bags.