Donator’s Remorse

I was pretty excited getting rid of nearly half my book collection. At least while I was packing them away. But now I've come to realize I cut so deeply it's cutting me pretty deeply, too.

Anita Brookner, for instance. She's been one of my favorite writers for years. I've worked on collecting her books at various and sundry book sales, always getting them on the cheap. So why was I so willing to pitch her books into the boxes of library sale donations? What was I thinking? Or was I thinking. Maybe that's the question.

Iris Murdoch. Ditto. Even my copy of her Booker winning The Sea, the Sea, a very big favorite of mine. One I'd vowed to re-read one day. And now it's gone.

A lot of the books I donated I could care less about. They were books I'm not likely to ever read, anyway, biographies of obscure 18th century writers, and just general contemporary novels I can snag here at the library any time I want. That was no big deal at the time, and remains no big deal. No remorse there. I'd rather have the shelf space.

I know I can get the Brookners and Murdochs at the library, as well as pretty much any other book I gave away. What I'm left wondering, though, is did I highlight favorite passages in my own copies, did I mark prose that sang, for later reference in subsequent reads?

And that's what haunts me. What I've given away isn't just a book, it's a part of myself.

I have the choice of going to the next book sale and buying back some of my own books, or just accepting the fact I was in a weird mode while weeding the first half of my book collection and live with it. But it's not as though the books are expensive; the library book sales are incredibly cheap. It's the relative weirdness of it, I guess. Not that anyone would know but me. And anyone reading this, of course.

The ironic thing is, I bought several of these books from the library sale originally. Regardless, paying double for them is still a bargain. Twice very cheap is, after all, still very cheap. So it's not the money. Nothing is stopping me, save my own mindset. Is it so strange buying back books you've donated? Should I care?

I haven't finished going through my books yet. There are still more I'm willing to part with, but I can't come to terms with my reasoning for shedding books by favorite authors. Why did I? Seeing the nicely organized shelves is pleasant, but missing a few of my favorite books is anything but. It was just a mood I was in, a desperate need to shed myself of possessions, to find my inner Buddhist and let go of material possessions. And books are material possessions, on the one hand. But on the other, they are my life.

I'd always imagined living in a house with bookcases covering every inch of wall space. When I read descriptions of Iris Murdoch's home I thought, "I wish that was me." Books, papers, correspondence… They were scattered everywhere. And she and her husband couldn't have been happier about it. Then again, John Bayley is a writer himself. That probably made a difference in their lives.

In my own life, I know my books, notebooks and papers clog the house. I realize how much time is devoted to cleaning them up and out of rooms when we have company over. I know, because I'm usually the one who does it. And yes, it can be a pain, because we've run out of room to put them.

As much as I tell myself all of this, it's still a stab to the heart thinking what I've given away. Some of it, at least. And between now and the next library sale I'll need to make up my mind what I'm going to do, if I'll let them go to other readers to enjoy, or go buy a few of them back.

It's a tough call. I still don't know what possessed me. Was it thinking this was the right thing, or being a cleaning zealot? Whatever it was, I know how it felt when it finally struck me what I'd done. When I felt that loneliness that comes from having given away something you care about, it hit me in the stomach.

Maybe I should have known better…

10 thoughts on “Donator’s Remorse

  1. I read this when I was contemplating weeding out some of my books because I have so many I have run out of places to put them, and now I am in a quandry!
    Some can go without a second thought but the majority have been collected with care over a lot of years and I can’t help thinking that I am going to end up bitterly regretting my actions if I am too ruthless about it.
    I wont mention the collections of notebooks and papers (as a former freelance journalist and would be novelist there are a lot of them!) because I can’t contemplate weeding them out.

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  2. Amanda – That would be a comfort, and interesting to see someone sitting there reading one of your old books. Definitely good to see others enjoying what you’ve enjoyed.

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  3. George, I do believe I will!! Do you have a wagon? I could bring you along. Ah, but I won’t buy them ALL back. Just those choice few. And if I see anyone else holding them, I’ll knock them over and grab them. I’m sure my job wouldn’t be in jeopardy if I did that…

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  4. Oh definitely get them back – think of it as just an excuse to donate to the library. I still have that dream of having a house covered with bookshelves.. one day. But I did get rid of about 25 when I went home for Christmas… and bought 30…

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