I walked down the hallway in the Seattle airport in 1956, my nose buried in my new Little Golden book. We were leaving our home and friends to go live in Alaska, at Eielson Air Force Base, and the book was bought to help soothe my angst. Alaska, the last frontier, was to be our home for the next four years. Suddenly, the floor under my feet was missing. I had stepped into thin air above a stairway. My young body was relaxed and unprepared for the fall, so I landed unscathed, retrieved my book, and dusted off my knees. My alarmed mother planted me in a safe place, where I continued to read, and re-read my new book. I’ve always loved getting a new book. Books have been my best friends, my retreat, my essential road companion and my pride and joy. And now I am learning how to let them go.
I know people who have libraries full of books they haven’t read. They bought them, intending to read them, but then got busy, or lost interest. My library, which I am currently packing up for a move, is full of books that I have read. Many of them are reference works and almost all of them were bought and read before the Internet existed.
Now as I process my library, I find myself blowing the dust off heavy tomes about feminist theory, stacks of brown-edged plays, dictionaries – oh, the dictionaries. I pick them up, smell them, touch their flyleaves, and drop them in the bin that says donate. I think of the trees that gave their lives to create these books, the printing presses, the publishers making all their high-stakes choices. I think it’s a good thing to reduce our dependence on printed books. I am an avid recycler and prefer a world where trees don’t have to die for me to learn things.
Still, I suffer pangs of doubt. I pull some volumes out and put them back on the shelf, then take them off the shelf and drop them back in the bin. I want to keep them, and I know I will almost certainly never pick them up again if I do.
I mentioned my dilemma on Facebook yesterday and a good friend, who also just got rid of most of her large library, said, “If I am not going to read them again, I get rid of them. Be brave.” So I am being brave. The books are going.
I am trying and mostly succeeding at getting off the virtual fence between the worlds of pre- and post-Internet. It’s a sign of my age. Twenty-something’s probably don’t have this problem. They never stood in front of their bookcases remembering the long hours spent absorbing all that knowledge, bolstering their educations, traveling in those authors’ worlds.
I can certainly do without the books. I’ve spent most of the past 20 years developing pretty decent IT skills, and the scores of bookmarks in my Internet browser certainly need organizing, far more than my physical library. I need to spend my time doing that, not moaning over the sight of favorite authors in the give-away bin. Germaine Greer doesn’t know I have culled her. It’s not a personal rebuke. I can Google the things she wrote anytime I want to. And my feminist theory is now embodied in me. I don’t need books as my bona fides.
I should be satisfied with the tools I am taking with me on the road – my laptop, tablet and smartphone. With an Internet connection and electricity, I can get all the knowledge I need. I have the Kindle app. And should I ever enter a world where those don’t exist, I hope I’ll still have a memory. Then, should I be called upon to provide feminist advice, I can do it from my experience, and, at my age, I will be considered an authority.