Wednesday, October 10, 2012


coping with collections

Well, look at that, here is blog post number 600.  Mercy.  How time flies when you're reading.

On my mind this week: how to care for collections.  Or, how to keep things you love, without having them keep you.  I am confronting this topic head on at the moment, because we experienced an extraordinarily humid summer this year.  Not wet, in fact not enough rain at all.  Instead, week after week of high humidity.  Living by the ocean as we do, in a circa 1850 house with a fieldstone-walled dirt-floor basement, we therefore suffered from a prolonged case of the rising damps.  Fall rolled around and drier air came with it.  But much to my dismay, as I started some fall clean-up projects, I discovered mildew on some of my beloved books.  Specifically the ones on the first floor - mold, blooming underneath their dust jackets - only on certain kinds of clothbound hardcovers, and on a few leatherbounds as well.  Thankfully we keep most of our books upstairs.  One of the spare bedrooms has no bed in it, rather it is filled with books, and thus we call it the book room.  It contains the core of our library.  All the other books around the house are merely satellites.  The books in the book room seem to be unaffected.

The upshot of this situation is that I am cleaning and sorting like a recovering hoarder.  In fact I am reading articles on the internet about how to let go of possessions which carry emotional attachment, vis-vis hoarding.  I do not live in a clutter-filled house, but I am aware of certain areas in which I tend to hang on to things too long, regarding the main preoccupations of my life (art, books).  The hoarding articles recommend taking it slow.  One room at a time.  One bookshelf at a time.  Clean, sort.  Decide.  Discard, keep.  Then reward yourself.  Not with more of the same, but rather with the satisfaction of empty clean living space around you.  Less to have to tend, take care of, cope with.  Imagine that, and having extra bookshelf space too!  Thus I am practicing creative visualization to help me attain such a goal.  And my goal is specific:  keep the books I love most, the ones I will read (for the first time or again), the ones that are irreplaceable; sell or donate the others; cut my book collection in half so all of my books will fit on the shelves in the book room.  Where, when high humidity strikes again for weeks on end, we can close the door and turn on a dehumidifier for a while, if we need to.  Problem solved.  The rest of the year our house is just fine.  With wood heat and a hot-air furnace it is dry and warm(ish - this is the Maine coast, after all).

Long story short, letting go is sooo hard.  But if Byron can do it - before he left England for good he sold his entire library for payment of debts - he let go, even though he dearly loved - surely, surely, I can voluntarily downsize my book collection.  For our health and peace of mind.  I want to be able to adequately care for the things I decide to keep, without being enslaved to them.  Sound reasonable?  Bonne chance.

I am starting Byron's Don Juan, by the way, but must set it aside since my signed copy of Mark Helprin's new novel just arrived in the mail.  It is sitting here next to me, right now, glowing faintly.  I know I shouldn't be buying another book, just when I am attempting to relinquish such things.  But.          

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