I’m a collector. It’s been that way as long as I can remember. Primarily of books, films and music, but occasionally the interest veers off into infrequent territories. Most often I find this during especially long film productions that require extensive scouting for props which leads to interests I might otherwise steer clear.
But, anyway, I digress. So, behavior of this sort naturally leads to levels of collection that can become overwhelming. Usually about once a year I try to purge items that I find haven’t been touched in quite a while hoping they will find more capable hands. When purging books I find this especially difficult as I become attached to the worlds of their promise. I go to great lengths insuring that if I am sending something to the wastelands of obscure collection in a used book shop that it will certainly have a better chance of being read than on my shelf. People who have taken literature courses can probably empathize with this thinking.
Normally I draw the line at books I have underlined and worked through extensively. Not only would my scribbles often make the experience of reading somewhat unbearable, but the books become more than books. They become extensions of myself. Thoughts poured into their lives become one for brief moments in time. It alters the texts. Adds new shades to them. This makes the dispersing of it like off loading a member of the family.
Who in their right mind would do that?
And yet, there are times when I look at things underlined and thoughts scribbled to the side and do not recognize the person of origin. It is not me and I certainly do not remember having those thoughts. Are they mine? Was the book scribbled before purchase leading me to encounter thoughts of unknown origin as my own?
Suddenly, it’s like a virus. Damage is done to the brain matter. Memories become unaligned. A war is waged to confirm the identity I believe to be mine.
Sometimes I dig it. Like pieces of scrap done as a child you were so sure matched the power of the greatest artists offering a bit of humble pie along with maybe some validation of initial thought. I combat an immediate desire to be gone with the means of humble as if vanquishing proof of a lesser self. As though these texts will somehow offer proof of a ruse laid upon those in my surrounding.
Nostalgia keeps this in check.
Feelings of loss and regret take hold along with a little curiosity and archive syndrome. Any rational need to clear space on the shelf for other books is easily dispensed. Those bits on the page are a part of me. Little time machines to previous places when I was desperately trying to become the person I saw myself capable.
Needless to say, it makes it difficult to simply discard.
I will often find a cozy place back on the shelf, maybe one a little less obvious so as to not draw attention, where it can spend its days lingering in infamy over what it was I thought I knew. Maybe my children can one day give them some fresh light and in the pages of random jargon I felt so clearly illustrated lack of knowledge they will find closeness or discover thoughts yet to be traversed. Maybe there is life still to be had in the vanished thoughts of my younger selves. Or, maybe they will just be there until I can no longer defend their presence.
Garrett, I think you should reconsider donating books that you’ve written in. Often, I feel uncomfortable with casually worn used books (for some reason my mind leaps to worst case scenarios where the books were left in bathrooms for toilet reading or something even less appetizing), but the used books I’m always drawn to are the ones with notes and underlined passages. It says to me, the potential reader: “This book wasn’t slogged through; it was savored and analyzed and enjoyed more than most. It’s worth your time.”
If you can find yourself able to part with those books, I know someone would love it. I don’t see it as taking the reader out of the reading experience–I see it as ushering that reader, unexpectedly, into an anonymous book club. Would I find the same passages worthy of note? Would my margin comments be similar? It’s fascinating to me to find out.
In my (even) younger years, annotating texts was anathema to me. I felt inadequate and insolent ‘defacing’ the works of others. But books are not museums, I realized one day. They want to be touched as well as they are read. There’s mutual satisfaction to be found in margin-scrawling.