"I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment. Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."~Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1816

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Books from Past Lives

I am having a hard time letting go of all these books I've accumulated - the good majority from my English major - but let them go I must because we are quickly running out of space here at the "Magic Cottage," as Mom has coined it. Part of my reluctance is because Mom and Dad carefully shipped a bunch of the books here and I carefully shipped the others when I first moved away, before kids. A good several hundred dollars has been spent preserving these books for me. For what? A dear work colleague of mine told me years ago, before I had children, that I would likely give the books away eventually, as much as it would hurt, because I really wouldn't need them in my post-baby, post-college life. Did she really mean my post-thinking life?

I called the library yesterday and was half relieved to hear that no, they can't use books that are highlighted or have notes in the margins, disqualifying a good chunk of the books. The books are a motley assortment. Some date back to high school. Many are ones I didn't particularly attach to except for sentimental reasons, such as A Dance of Legislation, by Eric Redman, which we read in high school government class the semester a boy sat behind me pulling out strands of my hair. Some I have read over and over, connected with for reasons I don't now have time to analyze, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, E. M. Forster's A Passage to India. There are books I've never read, some assigned in my college classes and some of hubby's from his college days, books I might need one day, one unlikely day when I have leisure to again read leisurely.

Another recent organizational project has been assembling my diaries and journals through the years. In that process I realized that my journals from college have either gone missing or don't exist. But, looking through my assigned texts from those years, especially from the government classes I took, my notes in the margins are a form of journalling. I didn't just summarize points, write down professors' ideas about selections from the texts, I pencilled in my own reactions to texts in the margins. My copy of Rousseau's The Basic Political Writings is thoroughly annotated in this way.

When my university alumni magazine arrives each season I quickly gobble it up, desperate to connect again to those heady days of reading and thinking. I read something in the magazine recently that alarmed me: "A new study indicates that some cognitive skills peak at the age of 22, then begin a slow decline a few years later. Timothy Salthouse, ... professor of psychology, conducted a seven-year study that indicated a decline in measures of abstract reasoning, brain speed and puzzle-solving at 27." I can't think that my lifetime analytical capability peaked at 27! Perhaps that is another reason I hold onto these books, especially the annotated ones, proof of my onetime intellect.

I didn't read much at all from when I graduated college until recently. I was too busy with growing up, becoming an adult, finding my path. Now that I am officially an adult (not that I have found my path), I'm making time again for reading. I'm hoping these new explorations in words, this new effort at thinking critically, will begin to shore up that lost part of my identity. Hopefully now I will be able to let go of some of my old books, finally.


  1. Laura, I am loving your blog!! And this is a wonderful post. I too am rediscovering the joy of reading after all these years of "growing up" and becoming a mom. I still have all my books from my days as an English lit major - most are still at my parents' house, and my dad keeps telling me to get rid of my clutter...it's very hard to let go of books. But good for you for taking up reading again, and now writing, which will take up no space at all :-) When I get a little more time I will read through the rest of your posts.


  2. Thanks for reading Cecilia! I really appreciate you taking the time to check out my blog and comment. Reading your blog has been a big encouragement these last few weeks, especially your post on "cyber turkeys."

    As for reading books again, It's been so worthwhile for me, as they get my ideas flowing. Plus, picking up my holds at the library is another chance to expose my children to books. Fun!