Saying goodbye to my books was hard to do. Getting rid of clothes –even designer outfits I haven’t worn since I dressed for success in Manhattan (a lifetime ago) — meant nothing to me. Let someone else wear them and show off the labels. I’m perfectly happy in jeans and T-shirts now.
But books? Old books that have lived with me like dear roommates for decades? New books that I’ve fallen in love with and planned to live with ’til death do us part? Novels and memoirs and textbooks from my teaching days? Books on cooking and books on writing, my two greatest creative passions? Well, that’s a whole different story.
When the new property manager I’d found here in Taos informed me I’d have to clear my bookshelves for my new tenant before I left for Mexico, his words hit me like a cannonball to the gut. I’d thought of my books as treasures, a true gold mine, a real selling point. The property manager saw them differently. “They’re too you,” he said. “You must let them go.”
Poco a poco, with a heavy heart, I did as I was told. I gave many of my cherished books to our local library. I bequeathed more to friends. I brought bags full to SOMOS (the Society of the Muse of the Southwest), Taos’s own literary nonprofit here in town. I squirreled away into my meager storage space the ones I just couldn’t part with — books written by writer-friends and personally inscribed, such as Cherie Burns’ biography of Millicent Rogers, Searching for Beauty; Sallie Bingham’s family memoir, Passion and Prejudice; Steve Fox’s memoir, Odyssey: Love and Terror in Greece, 1969; and Bob Silver’s essay collection, Tributes and Tirades. These books, I thought stubbornly, will have to find new homes after I’m cold and dead.
If I could take them all with me, I would. But books are heavy, and airline baggage is weighed and charged accordingly. Emily Dickinson may have called books “frugal chariots,” but those chariots are not light. Not if they’re made of good, old-fashioned paper, as all of mine are (and were). As if I’d already shuffled off this proverbial mortal coil, I must accept the fact that I can’t take them with me to Mexico.
Ah, books. All my life I’ve loved them inordinately — more than food, more than puppy dogs, more, even (I confess) than a lot of people. As a shy child I found companionship in books. I put them under my pillow at night so their magical words would filter up into my brain as I slept. I led my neighborhood pals to our town’s small library, where I stocked up on books (mostly biographies of famous women) to read by flashlight beneath the covers after “lights out.” In high school I clutched a stack of books to my flat chest in lieu of a boyfriend. Ever since then I’ve slept with whatever book I took to read in bed, so I’d never feel alone.
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to write a book of my own. Now I can say I’ve written three (and edited many more), and I have one more book in me that wants to be born.
But back to my bookshelves: They’re empty now, ready for my renter to fill with the books of his own choosing. Whatever makes him happy is fine with me. He’ll be moving in on December 1st, when I’ll be arriving in sunny San Miguel. I’m trying to be Zen-like about this: letting go, moving on.
Bye-bye, beloved Books — and thanks for all you’ve taught me.