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.)