Where books go to die

Book sculptures from www.KellyCampbellBerry.com

Book sculpture from www.KellyCampbellBerry.com

Christmas is over, the New Year approaches and I’m thinking about taking down the tree and packing it lovingly away under the stairs. The trouble is that the removal of the Christmas trimmings will be my signal to start a clear-out. It happens every year, not through planning or habit, but just because an itch develops.

When the tree initially comes down, there is a moment when the room lacks light and colour in comparison to the red, green and gold of the festivities. It doesn’t last long… and then it just looks pleasingly simple and uncluttered. Then the itch starts…

For most of my life I have lived within a family situation and, over the years, the ‘things’ we collect just build up. We don’t throw them away because they ‘may come in handy’ or, as often as not, because they have a value in sentiment or memory.

Over the past few years, the family grew up and moved out. When the last of them went, even in the unnatural silence of an echoing house, I breathed a huge sigh of release, rolled my sleeves up and started a huge and very satisfying clear out. For a while, every cupboard and drawer was pristine and almost empty. It was delightful.

Of course, that didn’t last and the ‘stuff’ started to build once again. Not so much because I had bought things, but I seemed to acquire them, or painted or sewed them. All the costumes and robes for the workshops seemed to breed a new reason for ‘it might come in handy’ and that is without all the family stuff I get to keep and store because it has always been here.

I daren’t even look in the loft!

Then there is all the paperwork that accumulates, the reference materials for writing, the files and the letters, the printed manuscripts… and the books.

The books are always the sticking point. And there are a lot of them.

They are double stacked on bookshelves two paperbacks deep, roomy enough for the biggest files. It makes finding anything a bit awkward, but as the alternative is to dispose of them, I have resisted and persevered. But, the time has come to prune. My intentions, at least, are good.

If I am honest, there are a couple of dozen works of fiction on the shelves that I have acquired and never read; they did not, for whatever reason, appeal to me. They are all in excellent condition and can go to a charity shop. I won’t even miss them. It’s the rest that is the problem.

In the past, for one reason or another, I have been stripped of many books and felt bereft. It is a far different thing from choosing to cull them voluntarily and I have done that too over the years. What now remain are mainly old friends. The reference books would stay, that goes without saying. The spiritual and magical texts too.

The biggest problem lies with the fiction. They too are old friends… many have been in the family longer than me and been read to several generations. Most are replaceable… many are classics I could get free or for mere pennies for the Kindle… but the dog-eared leaves hold more than the words. They hold memories and connection to those I love. They hold the scribbles of small children, the pressed flowers of special days and the stains of being well-loved.

I remember being ill as a child, confined to bed and looking forward to my mother or grandfather reading to me… even though I was old enough to read for myself, those were special moments shared. I remember even further back, to the first magic of stories at bedtime, the first encounters with awakening imagination, the first retellings of ancient myths from across the world and all the classic fairytales… and I still have a few of those books too. Maybe my grandchildren will read them some day.

But what on earth can I do with all those tatty paperbacks held together with yellowed sellotape and memories? No-one else would want them… I couldn’t even give them away… only the rubbish bin remains… and that would seem like murder. Yes, I know, that sounds melodramatic, but it’s true… it wouldn’t feel right to just throw them away in the name of tidier bookshelves. So I guess that while I have the choice and the space, they will remain.

Even so, I know it is not the books as objects that hold value for me. They are just ‘things’, wedges of printed paper. I could let them go and never lose them at all. Stories don’t die… not completely. They change and evolve over the centuries, taking on new forms, new names… but their essence and their message remains, even when the words are forgotten. The stories I was told, the words I read, the tales that marked me are indelibly part of who I am and as intimately linked with my past, present and future as the people who first placed a book in my hand and a story in my heart. Books, like people, fade, become fragile and finally disappear. The stories that both hold are alive while ever there is a memory waiting beneath the surface to be brought back into the light. Their spirit survives them and their gift shapes a new generation.

Such things are not easily discarded.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
This entry was posted in Books, fiction, Love, Memory and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Where books go to die

  1. blondeusk says:

    This post made me feel sad. My husband and I cannot throw books away and our house is jammed full of them. Trying to imagine where they go to die is too much for me to think about on this Tuesday morning over a coffee….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am reading a 40 year old paperback at the moment


  3. As I dream of downsizing, the issue always comes up; but the books and the photos will be the last to go. They are the “stuff” of life for us.


  4. Susan Scott says:

    I re-read some of my old books that I’ve hung onto for a long long time – The Diary of Anne Frank comes to mind. It has my maiden name in it – it must be 40 years old? No, there are some I will not let go – I know I will re-read them … my elder son is now reading The Magus: John Fowles which must be at least 30 years old …


    • Sue Vincent says:

      My son read most of my books years ago… and my granddaughter’s library is on its way. There is something very special about sharing those stories through the family, isn’t there? Especially from between the same covers.


  5. I have come to think that books have souls, it makes it hard to part with them….but perhaps by passing them onwards others get to share the touch of their souls….Some of course I will never part with though!!


  6. Judy Martin says:

    I have still got a few books from my childhood, plus a load of others that I like to re-read every now and again. It is very hard to give books away, let alone chuck them out.


  7. noelleg44 says:

    I need to do a massive cleaning out of things in the New Year (thanks for the reminder, dear), but books and papers in my loft-study are the hardest to go through. We have books piled everywhere – books I have not yet read, books partially read, books I want to keep. I need to find a library donation time so I can pass some of these on to others.


  8. Dale says:

    Oh I so feel your pain. I was, just the other day, looking at one of my bookshelves (in my room) and lecturing myself that there were some books in there – that I rescued from the garbage of my neighbour! – that I will NEVER read. Truly, do I need to keep them? Can I ever part with them? Why, oh why am I holding on to them? Oh.. looks like I found my subject for my next post! 😉


  9. Allie P. says:

    I have a terrible time discarding old books. I’ve only come to peace with it through charitable donation.


  10. Mary Smith says:

    I know that itch to de-clutter but I have the same problem about letting go of books. I did a cull some months ago, which actually meant I took some books of the shelves and put them in boxes, a few of which did get to the charity shop, but the rest of the boxes are under the shelves! My son had a sort out of his books, most of which I rescued from his boxes before they were sent to the charity shopI I have inherited my dad’s books – they are in the attic. Some time next year I will get to sorting them.
    I have seen lots of wonderful book sculptures and someone gave me a lovely Christmas card this year which is a 3-d fir tree made folding pages from an old French/English dictionary. While on holiday over Christmas I saw on a market stall some intriguing brooches and other pieces of jewellery made from book pages. I meant to return and buy something but of course it didn’t happen. Not that I can do anything so creative but you could, Sue.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I did once manage to cull over five hundred books… mind you, I was moving countries… and I brought more than that with me. Still, I count that a triumph… though I may still be feeling a tad traumatised decades later 😉
      I’ve seen some very clever things made with old books, but so far none I’d care to try my hand at. It would mean cutting them…

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Eliza Waters says:

    Books are sacred, esp. if they hold a special memory. It was so hard to cull the children’s books when they outgrew them. I limited myself to one shelf and am glad I have those few when the need arises and small ones come to visit. I can’t bring myself to part with plant-related books (I still have ones from college!) even though most haven’t been cracked in years. Sigh. Attachment…what would Buddha say?


  12. I have a LOT of trouble getting rid of books. Throwing them away seems somehow sinful … and our library won’t take any more donations (I think half the library used to be ours), nor will the local school. I’m optimistic about the senior centers … surely someone there still likes books 🙂

    My granddaughter learned to read by my reading to her. One day, after listening for many days, she said “Let me read to you, now.” And she did. The magic worked.


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