I’ve spent the last three days working on the books in my garage, taking books off shelves, opening boxes of books, rearranging them by author, putting those authors I wanted to keep into boxes or empty kitty litter pails, culling out the hardbounds and paperbacks I plan to sell, boxing the paperbacks I plan to take to the paperback exchange store where I’d get a 25% allowance on books I could buy. But then I’d be bringing more books home when I don’t need more books right now. I may have to rethink that last one about the exchange. It’s been a monumental task for someone who hasn’t done any heavy lifting for almost a decade. And the fine Arizona dust I stirred up made its way into my nose and lungs.
But now I’m nearly done. I have only to box up all my books I used in teaching American literature and other language pursuits, the ones I’ve carefully kept in my back room/office neatly displayed in one of my bookcases, waiting in vain for someone visiting us to look at them and admire my taste in books. Never happened, never will happen. I finally realized after fifteen years that it was silly of me to keep them all, silly of me even to have transported them from New York to Arizona in the first place. And now I’m going to take them to Dysart High School, find the English department, and then, like some old prostitute out trying to sell her outdated wares, I’ll see if any of the English teachers would be interested in my old books. God, I hope so. If I had to throw them away it would be like throwing away part of my past, part of me.
One thing that struck me as I was putting my books in order, figuring out what to do with them, was that it was like another preliminary step in getting ready to die. The first step was when we left New York, deciding what to take and what to sell, the discarding of some of the “stuff” of our lives. And now I’m involved in the second step, the second culling out of the unnecessaries of my life. I suppose the third step will be when Rosalie and I begin labeling our “stuff,” deciding which of our children will get what, deciding what items will be put out in that final, uncomfortable garage sale. That’s what my mother did in her 92nd or 93rd year, put little sticky labels on the backs of pictures, chairs, bric-a-bracs, her ever-dwindling “stuff” for her children and grandchildren to take after her death.
One bright spot in my book work: I found on one of the shelves seven quarterly issues of a literary magazine called Glimmer Train. I had unsuccessfully submitted several stories to the magazine and had taken out a two year subscription. It was maybe the most elegant magazine I’d ever seen, elegant in its cover designs, its internal illustrations and original artwork, the quality of the paper. Two sisters, Linda Davies and Sue Burmeister, had started it in 1991, operating on the premise that enough people would subscribe, enough people would enter their writing contests, to make it go. I had no doubt that their enterprise had folded years ago. I went on line just to see if it was anywhere to be found. Yes, there it was, still up and running after nearly two decades. My copies were in almost perfect condition, so I e-mailed the sisters, asking if they would be interested in receiving the first seven issues of their magazine. Linda Davies responded almost immediately. Yes, they’d be delighted to get them, and they’d even throw in a free subscription for my generosity. How nice it was to find a connection to a distant someone who took the time to respond to my query. So unlike the publishing business. So I boxed them up and sent them. And now I feel much better.