“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” ― Groucho Marx

My daughter is an angel, with the black soul of a Capital C Capitalist.

She is sweet and scattered and lovely. Until money enters the picture. At which point, she acquires a drive and ferocity that leaves me…..unsettled.

One of my favorite “30 Rock” quotes encapsulates it eloquently:

30 rock

(Change the him to her, and that about sums it up.)

Baby Girl wants to have a garage sale.  She has been ruthlessly going through her possessions, culling them, giving no regard to sentimentality, every single item in her room representing potential profit.  (And when you’re seven and cute, it’s ALL profit, because you didn’t pay for any of that shit.)

We do happen to have an overabundance of crap, these days.  So I’m on board with the scheme.

I’m actually kind of pumped to try to sell some stuff.  The electric lawnmower whose cord frustrated me one too many times.  The glittery hooker heels I wore twice (for a total of 40 minutes).  The microwave I got from my grandparents for high school graduation.

My thoughts drifted over to the bookshelf.  And unleashed a shitstorm of conflict.

I looked at the shelves.  Do I really need these things anymore? It seemed ridiculous, to get rid of this collection I’d spent years amassing.  And at the same time, I got downright giddy from the potential freedom.

I called my sister, to get a second opinion.

“No!  Like, ALL of your books?”

“Yeah, maybe, I don’t know.”

“But…hey, wait, don’t sell my Christopher Moore book.  You still have it.”

“Which one?  No I don’t.”

“‘A Dirty Job’.  Your ex-boyfriend borrowed it.”

“I gave that back.  I know I did.  Oh, shit, there it is.  OK, I promise I won’t sell that.”

“Ok.  Then hey, do whatever you want.”


I was clearly on my own here.


The points and counter-points started to line up immediately.

Point:  What if I want to read these again?

Counter Point:  I won’t.  I never have less than a half-dozen new books in the hopper, waiting to be read.  The likelihood is extremely damn low that I’m going to go back and re-read them.  The only book I have ever re-read more than twice (5 times, to be exact), was “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving.  And I’ve NEVER OWNED IT.  It’s been from the library every time.


Point:  I love them.  I started asking for books as gifts (as opposed to toys) from an extremely early age.  I love the way they smell, feel, look.  One of my favorite, shame-soaked geeky pleasures is to denude my bookshelves, then organize them alphabetically, chronologically, by color, by size, and then some unholy, algorithmic combination of those factors that only I can make sense of.  They make me feel rich in an obscured way that money never could.

Counter Point:  I hate lifting them.  I am going to want to move.  Fairly soon.  Books are fucking heavy.  I do not care to move those hefty bastards again.


pile-of-books-225x300(image from here)


Point:  I love, intensely, the memories surrounding the ones that were gifts.  Books that came from friends who thought they’d found the perfect gift for me.  Presents from my sister who has always had such similar (therefore, excellent) taste in fiction.  Books I got from an ex-husband, that were bright spots in a not so bright time.

Counter Point:  There are some not so awesome memories attached to a lot of them.  The books that were with me when I was at my worst, my most depressed, my lowest.  And sometimes looking at them, just seeing a title, can take me back in an instant.  Why put myself through that, unnecessarily?


Point:  I cared about what was on my bookshelf.  Books were a great conversation starter when someone came over.  And a great way of testing the waters, seeing if a person was “My Kind of Person”.

Counter Point:  The last time I moved, my bookcase got relegated to a corner of the bedroom.  No coolness points can be doled out when no one else can see them.  And dragging someone into the boudoir to look at my books would be a wee bit….contrived? Desperate?  Suspicious?  Counter-productive?



So yeah, I don’t know what to do.  Thoughts?

12 responses to ““Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” ― Groucho Marx

  1. Ok… first I have to say that A Prayer for Owen Meany is in my top 5 books of all time list and I adore that you’ve read it 5 times. I loved it. It haunted me until I read it again. And again. Oh hell, it still haunts me in that eerily beautiful way.

    Anyway. I have always found books to be like old friends. You invested time in them reading their stories, you found yourself immersed in them with emotion. You love them. However, just as sometimes it is ok to remove a friend from your circulation (life, geography, growing apart, they’ve just become an insufferable bitch and you’re wondering how you ever enjoyed your time with them…) it is also sometimes time to let go of some of your books. All of them? Pffft. Never. Some of those books have so much emotion behind them that it would be like gifting your left arm to a stranger. But surely some of them have a stronger hold over you than others, you keep the ones who have the seriously special place in your heart and you let the others go and tell them you will never forget them.

    Also… what I did when I found myself moving every 6 months and I finally settled in a house… I started gifting my books to family/friends. I didn’t just gift them a used book saying “here ya go!” I wrote to them… either on the inside of the cover or on another sheet of paper. I told them why I was giving this book to them, what it represented to me, and why I felt as though I wanted to give it to them. And you know something? They turned out to be beautiful gifts. Gifts I gave sometimes to even a coworker I wasn’t particularly close with but who was going through a rough patch and needed a place to escape into.

    Anyway. My two cents. Hope it helps.

  2. I don’t have an answer for you, but I feel you. Several years ago, my wife and I boxed up all of our books, got rid of some but kept most of them. And except for one bookcase-worth, we left the others in boxes through two moves, because we knew we weren’t settling down. Now we’ve moved into a house that we don’t plan on moving out of, so we bought a wall of bookcases and broke open all the boxes. I justify it to myself largely by the message I want to send to my girls about the importance of books and reading. But really, I just love having them. I may read some of them again (or, in some cases, for the first time), and even if I don’t, the books speak to me as a part of my past–where I bought a book, when I read it, whatever.

  3. Philosophically, to keep or not to keep books is one’s own struggle.

    Realistically, it’s pretty hard to sell books at a garage sale.

    I shed of about a third of our books before we did a cross-country move last year. Most of them got shoved into a bin owned by a questionable charity, just because I had nothing else to do with them. I did exhaustive research about what to do with unwanted books, and no matter how many charities you contact or used bookstores you drag your hoard to, there will always be a big pile left over that no one wants. (The Salvation Army in my area specifically doesn’t take books.)

    You can sell them one by one on Amazon if you have 20 years and many mailing envelopes. You can palm them off on friends. You can make a nice bonfire with them. But selling them at a garage sale may not be possible in the first place.

    I use the library almost exclusively now.

  4. Can’t really answer it for you, just share what i’ve done… Culled my collection down dramatically this year with the renovations to my theater room. Gave them to a local charity that has a massive book sale every year. Not every book, though. (“A Prayer for Owen Meany” is still on the small shelf in my bedroom). What criteria for ‘what to keep’? Gifts, with inscriptions i kept. Some that no longer even have meaning to me. They may go on the next round. Some that i love – my copies of “Trumpet of the Swan” and “Stuart Little” from my own childhood are staying. Damn it. A few that i haven’t read yet. Most (about 80%) went. It was sort of liberating…

    and i think Katherine is right – trying to sell books at a garage sale will just annoy you. you price a favorite book at a quarter, and someone wants to haggle you to 10 cents? you’re going to get pissed off…

  5. The books that give you emotional pain just looking at them should end up piled in the crapper. Tear out the pages and use them, well, for you know… your business.

  6. Isn’t having them off in 20 minutes the whole point of hooker heels?

    I’ve been doing the book downsizing thing lately. I find the least painful way for me is to try to fill one shelf with books to give away. It’s really not hard once you get over the feeling that you have to keep them all. Repeat as desired. After a few rounds, I actually have free space in my shelves. I’m thinking of getting a knick-knack.

  7. So what did you do? Anything yet? I have no advice, only a sort of driving by a car accident curiousity…

  8. The collection remains intact. I am paralyzed by the perfect storm of indecision and ennui. (Tara, if you’re looking to grow your collection, now might be a good time to stop by for wine….)

  9. I used to own a used bookstore and every time Owen Meany would come through, I would compulsively read the first paragraph. And then the whole book. Each time. It’s that good.

  10. I can come over and help with a purge. One good reason to keep it or it goes…probably to my shelf 🙂 I mean, to a used bookstore…

  11. First I just have to ask, are you me? If your answer is “no,” are you sure? Because you sound an awful lot like I do. (My love for Owen Meany is also undying, and having read other posts on your blog, I can tell that we’d get along.) To the question at hand, if you’re really planning on moving soon-ish, I can see selling your books. I’d keep your favorite few (I have about two dozen that moved with me recently) and sell the rest. Just make absolutely sure to write down their titles and authors, so you can find them again if you ever find that you need them. (Any that don’t sell would be great to donate to a youth/battered women’s shelter, or even an interfaith hospitality network. The one I worked with through the UU fellowship in my town loved getting books.)

  12. Get rid of the books that make you sad to look at. Keep the books that make you happy. The rest, handle one by one. Does it give you a good vibe or a bad one? Does giving it away make you feel liberated or sad? Use that as your guide as to what to keep. I’m currently doing that with my huge collection and there are some books that I’m keeping, despite having on the Kindle as well, just because I love the books.

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