Dumbing Down

big-ass library

We are packing our shit and preparing to leave our house, the house where nobody likes to throw anything away.

I like the idea of a fresh start, in terms of starting over in a clean empty house and pretending that we’ll learn to not pile things on every available surface. We’ll want to keep things tidy because we’ll be motivated by the nice empty canvass of the nice empty house.


But still, I am trying. I’m giving shit away and getting rid of stuff I can live without. So I started getting rid of old books, the kind that are really yellowed with tiny print and smell really musty. Eventually, I had boxes of books to take to the thrift store.

I realized that now when someone visits me, they won’t know I was once smart. They won’t have any idea of how well-read I am! Most of the fiction I bought over the years was in the form of cheap paperbacks, with a few rare exceptions when I felt justified in splurging on a hardback edition. I packed up dozens of wonderful moldy books that I would still recommend to anyone who likes to read.

All that Balzac, Zola, Bronte sisters, Goethe, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Nabokov, Iris Murdoch, Hermann Hesse, Tolstoy, Fitzgerald, Doris Lessing, Camus, all those great books that helped me to understand human nature while escaping the awfulness of being me.

If you know you’re not going to read those yellowed pages again, why should you keep them? Do people keep enormous ‘libraries’ of books just to remind themselves how much they’ve read? Or because books are too sacred to throw away? I really don’t know the answer. I will still have tons of books that are in good shape, because they’re newer or because they’re big art books made from high quality paper.

But people who meet me now will think I’m some idiot who just reads dictionaries and books about street gangs and mental disorders.

Meanwhile, my mind is now preoccupied with stuff I’ve never thought about in my entire life. Toilet seats! Kitchen cabinets! Media consoles! Wicker porch chairs!

It’s pathetic, these new preoccupations. We even discovered this TV channel where ALL THEY DO is buy houses, knock down walls, and argue about tile! It’s a whole new world, a world I never thought I’d relate to.

And it’s brought me and my husband a new kind of intimacy as we mock those losers who always talk about ‘natural light’ and always, always manage to say the word ‘granite.’

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16 Responses to Dumbing Down

  1. Jola says:

    we’ve been trying to gift our books but no one wants books here in country Australia….. some books in great condition evem the library won’t take if they’re older than 5 years; we’d take them to a charity shop, but if items don’t sell within 3 months the charity shop takes it all to the tip! To us books are sacred, they are knowledge, were a part of us, they represent how we felt at a time, where our mind was and you can’t put knowledge in a bin! Finally we found two ladies in our town who take books and have a big sale regularly where anyone can buy books by how high your stack is 🙂 brilliant. The profits go to the school, someone else gets to feed their mind and I don’t have nightmares at the image of all that knowledge going to landfill.

  2. Muscato says:

    Oh, God. Books. Just finished shelving the last of ours after our own little moving hell, and after a grueling round of culling. This last time, it was anything I can get for free online (goodbye, all those classics – many of the ones you name – see you in the cyberverse). Next it’s going to be a more rigorous round in which I plan to apply the “will you read it again, all the way through?” test, which I think is going to cull the trashier biographies, the last of the airport novels, and (I hate to say it) the really heavy-duty stuff that is still left over from university days. And even with the yellowest, most-dogeyed duplicate copy of something totally disposable, it’s a wrench. Books are an illness on some level!

  3. David Duff says:

    Speaking, or rather, writing as a lifetime ‘bookaholic’ I am ashamed to admit that a few days ago I became a Kindle owner – yes, I know, but it was given to me as a gift, so what’s a fella’ to do?!

    Mind you it has some possible advantages. You see, I am the proud owner of a “Waiting To Be Read” pile of books which actually constitutes a breach of ‘Elf ‘n’ Safety Regs’ as it totters over me in an alarming way. Then there is my “I Will Read You Soon” pile which is equally dangerous, and then there is the “Look, I Really, Really Will Read you Sometime” pile. Slightly more pathetic is the dusty, cobwebbed stack of “Honestly I haven’t forgotten you” books in the corner. So, you see, I am well and truly ‘booked out’!

    And that sly, little Kindle-thingie has already tempted me by offering some books for £1 each!!!! by Lee Goldberg, a wildly funny satirist who works as a screen writer for the LA studios and then writes these books parodying everyone from the studio bosses down to the cleaners and which reduce me to hysterics.

    Of course, I should be reading all those worthy and profound books with which I am surrounded but, hell, they keep the draughts off me in Winter!

  4. ali says:

    I think you need A BUNCH OF MIRRORS AND BRONZE in your new house. Just an opinion.

    Also, throwing away books is like tossing out friends, or, erasing a record of the moment when your brain changed because you looked at the world through a new lens. I think book hoarding stems from the same impulse that drives a writer to write. Documentation.

  5. Kelly says:

    I don’t understand the attraction to granite countertops. Bleech! I’m sticking with my 1940’s-era “cracked ice” laminate in gray.

    I have book disease. Bad. Books have been a comfort since childhood (like teddy bears). I guess admitting it is the first step…Good luck with the move!

  6. Rosie says:

    Don’t knock the “natural light” sister! It’s the only thing that keeps us warm here of a NZ winter, as home heating in this country has still not made it past the wood-burner stage. Granite is another matter, and just the mention of it in relation to interiors sends me into my own little world of fury. Seems to be one of those things people think they need because everyone else goes on about it, but if they ever thought about why they needed it they wouldn’t really know. Well thats my humble opinion anyway, and I’m sure I must be right. I have 5 cardboard boxes full of Elle Decorations going back to 1995 in my garage, that I can’t throw/give away. Who needs such things these days when there is more than enough images on pinterest to waste time looking at forever. But I then worry that if the internet and more importantly Pinterest collapsed, then how would I waste time if I didn’t have hundreds of old interior magazines blocking up the garage. And books of course, I find books very hard to send off to the second hand shop, and could never throw one away. The book god in the sky would see me and people would know.
    Good luck with the packing up, it has to be one of the hardest things to do, and I always wish I could just get a big skip and throw everything away, but then I would have no more horded stuff and would have to start collecting again.

  7. Beannie says:

    I am sorry but I can’t help you. My Saturday was spent reading blogs about adopting a minimalist lifestyle quickly followed by browsing real estate sites for houses I can’t afford to store shit I can’t part with.

  8. Madam restora says:

    Books are trophies – “this is what I do with my time”.

  9. Liz!! says:

    Sister, I’m not sure if this would help at all, but perhaps a thought — I love books.

    Everyone at the library got aggravated with my borrowing habits (at the time I thought the book limit was invented for me) and I bought books used the very age I had spending money of my own. It’s all piled up. One day, someone decided to go into my room to relieve me of some of my “children’s literature” for a book drive, since I was too old for it, and I think I was angry about it for months.

    I’ve had to travel for work and visiting family ever since, and while it used to be funny to bring 10+ books on any trip, it got really annoying to lug around. Someone gave me an ereader and I turned up my nose at it. I liked BOOKS, not just the words on the pages, but the folded over pages and the binding that was falling apart.

    It’s become a necessity. I started giving away hard copies of my books ever since (a 1,000+ collection now down to, I think, somewhere in the low 300s, most of that in storage. I don’t want to count.)

    One thing I thought about is what you wrote here, whether I kept some of the books because if anyone came into my room to visit, or the police after I was murdered or something, there’d be some clues about the person I was — the person I wanted people to think I was — all over the place. I hate my life sometimes but love the world that’s described in books, and that’s what I want people to remember of me, is that total of everything I’ve read. That IS me. Those are the words that go through my mind every second of every day.

    And sometimes I admit I would read in public and hope that someone with similar tastes saw the title and came up to talk to me about the field or simply approve, even if no one ever said anything.

    How ridiculous. I was so ashamed that I see using my ereader as an atonement. I’ve downloaded a lot of those children’s books to read when I am regressing, a lot of the “classics” for free, and other books from places all over. I’ve also paid too much for nonfiction that I can’t find anywhere else and I’m too impatient to pick up on an ILL. And the words are still there but I’m not showing off anymore or pretentiously building monuments in my bedroom, in the living room, even the bathroom. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

    Now I get mad when people who come visit and think I don’t read. I keep reference books and dictionaries around too, how USEFUL AND BORING visually.

    Oh well. You never win. Thanks for a great entry, Sister. It’ll be there in my memory with the other words.

  10. Sandra says:

    IDK so many people do the Kindle thing these days they’ll probably just assume you read e-books? I prefer a paper book, but I hate to collect. I read it and give it away. Sometimes if I finish a book in a public place I just leave it.

    I will keep around cookbooks, but if I realize there’s only 2 recipes in the book I actually use I’ll take a photo of them and email it to myself, OR photocopy it and put it in my recipe binder.

  11. Kellie says:

    There is only so much time and effort you can put into carting your history around. As a person, it becomes exhausting both physically and mentally.
    I am on the “use up and throw away” program right now. I have so many things i have been carting around and storing forever. There has to be an end to it at some point.
    I am looking towards moving again, and am figuring out what really matters, and what i cant live without. The library exists, and so do books online. That shit is heavy, keep only what you cant live without.

  12. triggerhippy86 says:

    I have never used a Kindle or read via e-books, except for research whilst I was still at uni. Even so, I’ve already made up my mind that I wouldn’t like it, I am far too attached to my books and the feeling of actually turning pages.

    I’m sure I’ll continue to horde books until I have no room left. I have already resorted to stacking them in piles against the walls as I have ran out of all available shelf space!

    This essay by Christopher Hitchens really resonated, though my own collection wouldn’t be a patch on Hitchens. I wish!

    “I am utterly miserly about letting any of my books out of my sight.” Could’ve been writing about me :/


  13. Perucha says:

    Unrelated to this post, but thought I’d share this link about pink features in bathrooms, reminded me of your new bathroom:

    Hope it helps 🙂

  14. Sandra says:

    also, unpopular opinion: I hate coffee table books. They’re big, expensive, and they serve mostly to entertain the guests I never have

  15. Winter Bird says:

    Street gangs and mental disorders…at least it’s cohesive! I want to live in your pink and green bathroom.

  16. Did you actually read Tolstoy of your own design and not for school? I haven’t met anyone who can get past ten pages unless a grade is involved. You must be very well read indeed! Perhaps one day you can regale us with your tales of what they taught you and how those words made you feel.

    Yes I realize this is an old post. I’m reading back.

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