Packing My Library

I spent the day sorting, cleaning and packing up many of the books in my library. My book room had become so crowded with books one could barely walk into it because of the volumes stacked on the floor. Since leaving my teaching career and life as a classicist behind, I’ve also had to face the reality that I needed to clear out most of my and my late husband’s Latin and Ancient Greek books. I had to be brutally honest with myself and admit that there is very little chance I will look at these highly specialized tomes ever again.

Grief and loss are sneaky things; they creep up on you when you least expect them. I shed so many tears today as I packed up those books. “But why,” I kept thinking. Why? I’m not one to attach sentimental value to things or objects so why were these books making me so emotional?

Walter Benjamin, in his essay “Unpacking my Library” points out, “I am not exaggerating when I say that to a true collector the acquisition of an old book is its rebirth.” I was hoping that our classics books, many of which are quite old, would find that new home, that rebirth with someone else.

A dear friend pointed out to me in the midst of my packing and cleaning, “Those books have really been weighing on you with all of their actual weight haven’t they?” The classics books in particular made me sad, not because I’m getting rid of them but because they have no real place to go. A famous used bookshop in Boston refused the offer of my collection because such books are “too difficult to sell.” The last vestiges of my former life. Not valuable to any one.

I wiped my tears and packed and cried some more. At the end of the day, though, the sense of calm and peace I felt with this project outweighed the initial melancholy. My massive collection of poetry, NYRB classics, and Seagull books are gleaming at me from their perches. And now I have space to add to my collections.

Habent sua fata libelli.

(Dear books each have their own fates.)


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31 responses to “Packing My Library

  1. I had to dispose of many books when my parents died and again when I sold my house. I was realistic about the market for so many. We only have one annual charity used book sale that is a good option for many more specialized items, but even then, they don’t have a couple of huge garbage skips outside the venue for no reason. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Denise Duvall

    Would a university library not accept them as a donation and give a tax credit?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is hard, I feel for you.
    I wonder about the fate of my collection sometimes. I hope that there will be someone out there who will want a great collection of Australian literature…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That must have been so hard. And then hearing that they are not considered valuable by anyone…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Liz

    The hidden and overt enormity of beloved possessions is such a challenge to deal with. I’m so glad that you were in the end able to experience some positives from what must have been such a difficult exercise.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That was so sad to read. Books are friends and we create attachments to them in different ways. Although they only go in dribs and drabs, I find parting with mine a real wrench, even though there are still plenty left. And, like you too, it sounds, often they are replaced by new ones…

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  7. Vishy

    Loved your post, Mel. It made me cry. I know how much you love your Greek and Latin classics. It must be so hard to do this. I tried giving away some part of my collection a few years back. I spent a lot of time deciding which books to give away and then put them in a bag and took them to my book club meeting and put them on the table and asked my book club friends to take the ones they liked. My book club friends were happy. I did this a couple of times, but couldn’t do it anymore. Meanwhile, books have taken over my house. Spying on your bookshelves now. Have you kept the Juvenal collection or are you giving it away?

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  8. For readers, our books are so much a part of ourselves – what we read, what we choose to put on the shelves – that it must have felt like another goodbye. Glad to hear it proved to be cathartic.

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  9. Oh, I feel for you so much Melissa. Books become part of us, especially when they’ve been with us for a long time. I’m trying to thin mine down as there are just so many (as we realised when clearing out the Offsprings’ old rooms and found how many of my books had snuck in there). It’s very painful to let go, but I found it oddly a relief to get rid of some of them. Paring my collection down to the essentials and somehow realising I will never read all the books out there is somehow a relief. Your book room looks lovely and welcoming now, and ready for you to fill it with books which feed your soul… x

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  10. Well done, Melissa. Such a shame that a collection like that hasn’t found a home yet – I hope it still can.

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  11. Books are futures. This is so when we buy them and when we keep them. “Have you read all those books?” visitors ask. Certainly not, or not yet. And I’ve ended up purchasing books I previously sold because they would play a part in something new.
    So, though commercially, all those abandoned books may be floating in the sea with plastic detritus, for us, the curious, they are always somewhere waiting for someone to find them and to reveal a new/old/ancient surprise. May the best of many new futures come your way

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jeff (j.decker)

    Been there, done that. When I started having serious visual problems 3 years ago, I had to make those hard decisions and ending up donating over 2 dozen boxes of my books that I realized I could or would no longer read, and I eliminated them from my reading future. I am now down to 15 boxes which I’m readying for a move to a smaller home in November. But honestly, I found there was something cleansing about making those decisions and accepting them. I try now to focus on re-reading favorites.

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  13. Thank you, Melissa,
    for your considerations on “Packing my library” with the hint to Walter Benjamins “Unpacking my library”.
    To part from such a fine collection after and along with the beloved co-collector must be heavy and tearful for you, and hopefully somehow liberating as well. By the way: is there any etymological relation between “liber” (book) – and “liberation”?
    Myself, too, I’m facing the task to browse through the book shelves and clean up the dust.
    Best wishes to you and family!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I really feel for you, Melissa. This must have been such a hard thing to do, especially given everything that’s happened over the past two years. I recall similar feelings when I had to clear out my mum’s possessions following her unexpected death thirty or so years ago…such an emotionally draining experience.

    As others have said, our books become part of us, almost like an extension of our character and personality. It feels like another wrench to let them go, but I’m glad you felt a sense of peace and solace at the end – that’s good to hear. Take care, Jacqui X


  15. My life has always been connected to the lives of books. As a child, whenever my family moved (and we moved continents) books were the priority in the packing process. Our entire family would have such joy in packing and unpacking the “family library.” But as technology evolved and living spaces became smaller, books found their way into the digital age. Your insights and the follow-up discussion resonated. Thank you!


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