I’ve been emptying out my apartment for weeks now, but it didn’t really start to feel empty till I sold my bookshelves. They weren’t anything special or fancy, just four cheapo Billy units from Ikea (though the cool fire-engine red color did make them somewhat distinctive). The sudden lack of furniture and the warming power of stuff about the place was at once noticable after they had sold on eBay and the nice lady who bought them had come and picked them up.
Now, I’m still left with some books left to sell or dispose of as honorably as I can. I’ve limited the actual throwing away/recycling of books to those actually in such poor physical shape that it would be tough to even give them away, as I have done with some books, now at home with friends.
Mostly, I’ve been gradually hauling books, two bags at a time — which is the most I can comfortably, or not totally uncomfortably, carry out to the bus stop, up and down subway stairs, and across town from Grand Central Station — to Book Off on West 45th Street in Manhattan, which is part of the famous Japanese chain. The Book Off people are generally insane, in a very very nice way. They have signs all over the store saying not “We buy books” or “Sell us your stuff” but instead politely asking for us to “please let them buy” our books, DVDs, CDs, and video games. It’s very Japanese. The Japanese women who work there laugh gently and graciously when I say “arigato” — the extent of my Japanese — when they pay me.
Recently, when I sold them two bags of books, they gave me a coupon for my next visit. I figured it would be for a discount off a purchase, but no: It was redeemable for the next batch of stuff I wanted to sell them, in return for which they would give me 30 percent more than they normally would. Crazy. And when I used that coupon a week later, they gave me another.
But I’m dancing around the really cutting thing I’ve discovered about life, the universe, everything, and myself as I slowly dispense with my books. I’ve had to handle and look at each and every book on my erstwhile bookcases in order to dust it off, decide if it was sellable or had to be offered up to the NYC Department of Sanitation or if there was someone in my circle of friends who would really really like to have it. During this process, I realized that I had gone through the expense and hassle of moving many of these books — hundreds and hundreds of them — through both of my previous household shifts as an adult… and all without ever reading them. Not once. I discovered books I’d forgotten I owned and had bought new copies of. I found books I’d spent a small fortune on and never even cracked. I uncovered books intended as research for projects — novels and screenplays — that I never got around to even beginning.
Maybe that’s why I’m not all that sad to be saying good-bye to all my books. I do mean all. I’m gonna store the half a dozen trade paperback editions of the Barnes & Noble Shakespeare I bought a few years ago, because they’re best annotated versions of the Bard’s plays I’ve found yet. Plus a dictionary… and I might chuck the dictionary if I need the room in my storage bins. But that’s it.
It’s not that I no longer love books or crave the knowledge and wisdom they have to offer. Because I do. And I’m sorry that I never got to read some of the books I’ve been hauling around with me my entire adult life. I’m sure I will acquire some of them again… and I’m sure that I will, the moment I settle down somewhere again — whether that’s in London or back here in New York or somewhere else I can’t even imagine at this point — start accumulating books again.
For now, though, they feel like a weight off my shoulders. (Just the physical books: I’m loving my Kindle, and I’m started to dread the moment when I fill it up and can’t add any more books.) It’s a strange place for a book lover and a writer to be, and I’m not sure what it means. Perhaps that’s something I’ll figure out as soon as I figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life in general.