“The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.” — E.M. Forster
I’ve spent much of the last week sorting out my books. Moving states means, once again, I have to say goodbye to most of my book collection. I sold about 40 books this weekend for a total of $31.50. Hardly seems worth it, especially if you consider how much money I spent on them. But it was not just a simple monetary transaction for me. It felt strange walking into Half Price Books to leave books behind rather than take them with me. While I was waiting for my books to be priced, I wandered through the store. I felt like I was somehow incomplete being surrounded by all those wonderful books, unable to take any home with me.
When I walked into my room afterwards, I teared up at the sight of an empty bookshelf. Crazy, right? I shouldn’t be so attached to inanimate objects, yet I feel like I said goodbye to some good friends today. My whole history in America could be put on a timeline according to when each of those books was bought and the order would tell its own story about the last 5 years of my life. From Toni Morrison’s Beloved, my first book purchase in America and probably the only book I ever paid full price for, to Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland , a book I bought simply because someone told me there was a bit of cricket in it, they all tell a piece of the story.
But I didn’t get rid of all my books. Some are too precious to bid adieu. I sold all of my Terry Pratchetts except for Thud!, my absolute favourite Terry Pratchett. All of my Shakespeares were sold back to the Recycled bookstore and there isn’t a single murder mystery left in my possession. Ok, maybe one Agatha Christie.
I couldn’t get rid of any of my Shona books, though I’m definitely going to need to get some new ones in Zimbabwe to add to this pitiful collection.
Nelson Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom is the solitary book left on my bookshelf. You can’t let go of a story that powerful, or lessons that important. I read it when I feel like I’m getting a little too self-centered. It reminds me of the sacrifices made through history for me to be here, and the work that still needs to be done.
One book sits on my desk. It too must be left behind. It will not make the journey to Wyoming, yet I could not bear to hand it over in the bookstore. Unassuming, it lies there next to me, like it didn’t come to me at a time I needed it, like it didn’t rescue me at a time that I was driving myself insane with indecision. I feel open, exposed when I look at it, like it knows me. Like it’s seen me at my lowest. It knows my every weakness and flaw, yet still gives me life and courage to carry on.
This is one book I’ll miss, but also one book that I feel like I need to pass on in the hopes that it will find another scared and confused young woman like me and help her find the courage to make a decision. I wrote a blog post about the important realization I came to after reading the Bell Jar, and that blog post was a turning point for me. I was a little more willing to make decisions once I realized inaction was probably more detrimental than anything else could be. The image of the figs rotting in front of Esther as she stands paralyzed unable to pick one comes to me every time I think about hiding from a decision. You can’t stand still waiting for the right choice to fall into your lap. If you don’t decide, life will decide for you.
Books. I don’t know how so many people can live their lives without ever cracking one open for pleasure. The world wouldn’t make sense to me without books.