On January 2th, probably before lunch, I will see the white square of the post office truck putter by and a few minutes later, the driver will ring my doorbell. What’s the package? The first order from Amazon for 2015 and here’s what will be in the box:
- Make it Ahead: Another Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten, which I look forward to using, but it won’t be for a while. Our oven blew out Christmas Eve and we served a delicious turkey with only the top half cooked. We gave the carcass to my brother-in-law because he’s a gourmet cook and he likes to make stock, so, alas, it may be a few weeks before I can follow up on Ms. Garten’s suggestions.
- Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island and Other Previously Untranslated Gems by Colette, the first translation of any of her work in 50 years. I am just thrilled to add to my growing Colette library.
- Novel Interiors: Living in Enchanted Rooms Inspired by Literature. Perhaps if I live like Edith Wharton and Thomas Hardy, I will write more like them, definitely worth a try.
The new books don’t stop here, however. I rushed off to Barnes and Noble and found my book club assignment for next month, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, (30% off for a hardback), and named one of the best novels in 2014 by The New York Times, so the minute I finish Love and Louis XIV, The Women in the Life of the Sun King, I will start Doerr’s novel. (Author’s note: Reading about The Sun King at Christmastime may not have been a good idea; I’ve had the strangest dreams set in the French court and believe me, waking up in a sweat after seeing yourself in a chestnut topiary wig, bosom powdered and jeweled, and the whole package stuffed into a silk tiered tent, well, it’s a long way from visions of Santa Claus and the Sugar Plum Fairy.)
With the arrival of the new books, there is a bit of a problem. Where are they going to go? Our house is so stuffed, I am having trouble finding shelf space and as my husband says, if something comes in, something must go out.
And I have to admit the last purge was a failure.
“Granville, do you have any books to purge?”
“Granville? Honey! Do you have any books to purge?”
“Maybe a few.”
And that was that. If he had any, he decided to keep it a secret so I took the bull by the horns and purged some of his books. Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings . . . A Course in Miracles. . . (Oh, maybe I will glance through that one beforehand.) Anyway, who reads book like this? I had a nice stack going believe me, and then I felt a little guilty and put them back. In marriage doing the right thing is often so hard.
“Marlyn! Any books to purge?”
“Oh, yes, here are some,” and with that she handed me The Secret Garden, The Wind and the Willows, and Swiss Family Robinson, all of which I put back on the shelf. When I asked her to try again, she said she’d changed her mind. She wanted to keep all of her books.
Now, my turn. Chop, chop. Three at once. My clammy hand reached for Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. I loved Horan’s book, the Desai book was okay, but slow, and I won’t read it again; Stedman book was so-so. The three paperbacks spent the night in the hallway ready for their trip to the Goodwill and then a fateful thing happened. The next morning I put Loving Frank back in the bookcase. Excuses, excuses, but what if the novel can help me with timelines and characterizations the next time I write a fiction? YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM A GOOD BOOK said my inner 8th grade English teacher.
I did purge a book once and I swear I kicked myself a few months later because I reached for the book again – not sure what it was, I think a murder, more Christmas reading I guess, and it had gone to that great book graveyard in the sky. Actually that’s not true. The book is sitting somewhere on a dusty shelf owned by someone like me who can’t give her books up. I can’t even let go of the books I don’t like. Even the dull ones. Especially if they are hardback. I mean I don’t even like Catch 22 and I’ll probably never read Gore Vidal’s Julian and I still haven’t read Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore and what about that book Terry Teachout wrote on Mencken, yet I just feel better knowing they are there, waiting for my little hands to reach up and pull them down, cup of tea and fire awaiting in great hope.
When I wrote my novel The Excellent Advice of a Few Famous Painters, all the art books I used for references were sitting around the house, texts we had had in college, cast-offs from families. One manual dates from the 1940s. Perfect.
Does this mean I’m a book hoarder? I keyed book hoarder into Google and after reading about trouble getting chores done, keeping jobs, maintaining relationships, and having a messy house, I decided to think about something else. Perhaps my daughter will come visit me in thirty years and I’ll be sitting in a comfy armchair- not a recliner with a snack tray, perish the thought – surrounded by stuffed shelves and towers of books all over the floor and tables, Miss Havisham disheveled with a huge smile on my face.
So, I stomp around the house trying to force a space for the new books. Wait! Look! Up on the shelf under the high school yearbooks, a lopsided cloisonné urn, and Household Discoveries: An Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes and Processes (dating 1908)! Aunt Judith’s Complete Collection of Charles Dickens! So pretty in the dark green leather bindings though I expect I will not be reading Martin Chuzzlewit anytime soon. Off to the Island for Misfit Books, that is until I open and see this name in ink: Lewis B. Betty, Norfolk, Va. 1885. Oh, no.
What’s that over there? An entire shelf of videos! V-I-D-E-O-S, technology dinosaurs. Out goes The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Emma, the only Jane Austen heroine I don’t like, and a copy of Gone With the Wind which my sweet husband bought my daughter and me from the cut-out bin only to realize when we sat down for family movie night he’d bought the Spanish version. “Francamente, mi querido yo no le importa un comino” is hard to get excited about when you only know the lyrics to La Cucaracha.