I have been in a down-sizing mood for the past year, ruthlessly working my way through the house and discarding anything for which we have no need and I know with certainty we never will, those things I’ve saved to pass on to my children which they tell me they will never want – how many sets of china, crystal and silverware can a family continue to accumulate? That fine china never breaks like the “everyday” dishes, because it’s only brought out for use on special occasions. I find the notion that the tea cups in my china cabinet are bound for a longer life than I am rather creepy. So they have now been moved to the kitchen cupboards for everyday use, and the everyday dishes have either to the bin, or moved on to the a thrift shop.
With clothing, household items, the task has been easy. I have an egg slicer that came to me in a box of kitchen castoffs from a friend of my mother’s when I was setting up an apartment for my first social work job in Lethbridge in 1969. Yes, it still works. No, I can’t remember the last time I felt compelled to create perfect egg slices.
But the hardest of all has been the culling of books. For a very long time, I held the book as a sacred object. Once I owned it, I had a lifelong responsibility to care for it even if I didn’t like the book. Some were easy to pass along to friends, some I took to my writing classes and put them out on a “take away whatever intrigues you” table.
But to throw a book in a recycling bin? What disrespect for the months, years I imagined the author labouring over his work. Still, I gritted my teeth. Some were easy; the university sociology texts, a text used in a 200 level course in Logic. I’m still baffling over why I chose to take that course. Modus ponens and modus tolens notwithstanding, I doubt that I’ve ever applied those principle of logic to my live. And the musty old paperbacks that threaten to crumble in my hands when I opened them? Into the bin.
I am now down to three bookcases that passed the simple test—can I imagine myself or someone in my family reading these books? The answer is yes, for some a more resounding yes, but both of my sons, when they come home, are often on the prowl for books to read. To my delight, they seem to share my tastes in literature and have even asked to keep some of these books for their own bookcases. My librarian daughter has not only a whole system to draw from but a library in her own home. It is to her that I am able to recycle newer books that can either be accepted as donations or go into the library book sale bin.
What brought on this frenzy of de-cluttering? A need to open up space around me and let the light in. I’ve come through a difficult two years of being unable to focus on much more than physical tasks. A time when even reading anything with a dark undertone filled me with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. A time when I’ve skipped through most of the morning paper to Life and Arts, and a time when I’ve forsaken Peter Mansbridge, and automatically turn off the car radio when disaster, atrocities, suffering make up the news.
In a long and round about way, I’ve reached the point of this post — even my writing skills are rusty from lack of use. Unable to face any book that would take me into the darkness, and even those that I suspect might catch me unaware, I’ve returned to the books on my shelves that I love and that I hope I will be re-reading for years to come.
What have I been reading? Many books by well known authors who never fail to delight,no matter how many times I go back to them. But also, and more importantly, the books of friends and acquaintances that have ended up in dusty corners after the typically short life of most of the fiction published in this country. I will leave you to your own selections from the work of Carol Shields, Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro et al.
Among the books to which I returned this summer, here are some by authors you may not know. I urge you to seek them out. Beautiful books that deserve be hunted down and read by new audiences:
Limbo by Jacqueline Honnet (Turnstone Press, 2005)
Sightlines by Leona Theis (Coteau Books, 2000)
I’m Frankie Sterne by Dave Margoshes (Coteau Books, 2000)
In the Misleading Absence of Light by Joanne Gerber (Coteau Books 1998)
The Quick by Barbara Scott (Cormorant Books 1999)
They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That by Lois Simmie (Greystone Books, Douglas and McIntyre, 1987)
Nothing Sacred by Lori Hahnel )Thistledown Press 2009)
Into This Room poetry by Sharon Drummond (Blackmoss Press, 2001)
I was tempted to give a capsule description of what I love about each of these books, but decided you don’t need that. Just trustme , and you will be rewarded. And these books will get the attention they so richly deserve. Of course there are others, and my apologies to my friends whose books are not listed here, but you’re likely still my in “to re-read pile”.
So perhaps I’ll conclude with “to be continued”.