Monday 31 October 2022


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I write this on Halloween, surrounded by the spirits of the past and the words of the present. I hear their voices all around, reaching out to me: some insistently, some muttering at my neglect and others whispering affection. Each one promises me the safety of an escape from the present, and space and time in another world if I will only stay for a few minutes . . . or hours . . . or days . . .

How has this haunting happened? By my very own deed. The darkening nights have driven me to face, at last, a necessary task, no matter what the reckoning.. I was stirred me to start on an exorcism, to thin out some of the voices that have now grown so loud. I am the one who resurrected these presences, these spirits that sense their own disturbance. 

 A simple decision, I thought: the time had come to reduce the books on the shelves in my workroom. Right now, there are more authors around me, more muttering presences on pages than I can ever read or re-read. There are titles spread across the desk, the spare pasting table, the filing cabinet and any other spare surface available. So many! Certainly signs of a serious book addiction.

I have real attachment issues with books, knowing them as the safe and secure space of my childhood and, at times, ever since. Being able to buy books and having the space for them all my life has been both a need and a great privilege.

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Now some of them must go. Where to, though? A few places will accept discarded books - the Oxfam bookshop in town, an active local church, a National Trust Book Barn and Freecycle - so the books won’t, yet, go for pulping, This makes me much happier about the Big Sorting Out that has to be done, for all sorts of practical reasons. Yet having to choose makes me feel emotionally uncomfortable.                            

Some books remind me of my past, recalling a gift given, a special person or even the age I was when I first met the book. Some have mattered because of a particular character or a compelling landscape or setting. Some books I value because of the patterns of their language or a particular phrasing or vocabulary – and some of just fun. Some I have because they taught me about a certain place or community, near or far away. 

Others titles are simply there for security, containing facts and details that make you think you understand how to do x or y, or know why and what a certain happened. Even with the internet, I cling on to old non-fiction books just in case there is a need to check the fact a decade or so later. And all this without mentioning the satisfying power of design or illustration and the very feel in the hand or the lap of the three-dimensional object.

The books on my shelves have brought so much to my life that I am reluctant to trust in my own too-poor memor by casting the magic within the pages aside,  and set the books free in the world. 

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Today, with the daylight fading and All Hallow's Eve at my door, I shift the volumes along the shelves or place them in useful groupings. A gentle dust rises up, like the spells cast by all the many, many voices.  

I feel uncertain about which ghosts I am releasing . . . and whether I will still be able to hear their voices when the books are gone.


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Penny Dolan



Susan Price said...

Sending sympathy! I keep looking around at my own walls of books and thinking, 'I should get rid of some of them.' But don't know where to start and don't know if I can.

Lynne Benton said...

Quite agree, Penny and Susan - it's so difficult to make those decisions. It feels rather like I imagine it would feel to wrench off part of myself and give it away! Good luck with your decisions, Penny! I just keep reminding myself of the board my son gave me, saying "There's no such thing as too many books - just not enough bookshelves!" (Though I do have quite a lot of bookshelves...!)

Saviour Pirotta said...

A fantastically atmospheric post, Penny. Letting go off books is so hard.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks.Sue, Lynne and Saviour. Books are so personal a need. I can go into so many shops - clothes shops in particular - and come out thinking "Nothing for me here" but that's never ever my feeling in bookshops.

The culling is helped by the thought of worthwhile destinations - and only working on one major category at a time.

Hmmm.I've also noticed, looking at the typos, that the books might be winning over the eyesight in this battle.

Sue Purkiss said...

As Saviour says - very atmospheric!

Anonymous said...

As soon as I get rid of a book, I find I need it!