Out of My Library

If you don’t like the feeling of book dust on your hands, the sight of new gaps between the volumes on your shelves, the surprise discovery of tomes you missed even though you never knew you missed them – read no further.

I am in the grips of a book-shedding catharsis. I realized today – and this is the way it often happens for me – that I couldn’t let another hour go by without winnowing out my book shelves. I insisted that Gil sort his office, too. (He couldn’t find any to give up, but he tried.) The resulting 100 or so cast-off titles went into an extra-large packing box.

gil w book box

Off to the library.

croton mat

A mother stood trying to corral her preschooler near the sidewalk. “Donations?” she said cheerfully. “Efficient way to bring them.”

“Is he a neighbor?” said her son.

“Maybe,” said the mom.

Local book sales bring together browsers with only a desultory interest, avid bargain hunters and steely-eyed professionals. Pop selections are only a minor part of the culture.

hunger games

When we lived in Hastings-on-Hudson, resellers from all over bought Friends of the Library memberships so that they could go to the earlybird presale and scoop up multiple cartons of the most valuable items. That was okay, we managed to find plenty of gems on our own time – including some we had ourselves donated. Yes, it’s true: we turned in books for the sale that we later decided were simply too fascinating to pass by.

radiating like a stone

But it’s such a relief to weed out the honeys of yesteryear: The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, Dava Sobel’s Longitude, The Judgment of Paris by Ross King. All good reads, eye opening, brain teasing. None of them necessary to my life at the moment.

The Croton Free Library has just celebrated its 75th anniversary. I hope that its patrons will enjoy my books as avidly as I did.

croton library anniversary cup

There are people with acres of shelves in their home library. Their libraries. Their nooks and end tables. Their bedside stacks. When we downsized to the Cabin, that life ended for us. We knew we’d have to focus a laser beam on what meant something to us. We carted out dozens of boxes for various libraries, dozens to sell at the Strand, and ended up leaving many freebies at the curb. Even if you mourn the loss of your books, it is worth it for the experience of a transaction at the historic institution of the Strand, which has been in business since 1927 on 12th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.


The  buyer peers down his spectacles and thumbs through your precious collection, calculating all in his head the value of each book before announcing the usually paltry total. Sometimes it is a triumph, enough for dinner in a decent restaurant. Those novels that you thought were brilliant, invaluable, they’re basically worthless at the Strand, while the store covets and compensates well for the scholarly and academic works you thought no one would ever want.

Now the smooth, dust-free spines of the books line up straight on my wooden shelves in the proper order – all of them books I have selected anew, that I want and need.

double shelves

Some of them seem to have a special kinship even outside their genre. Not exactly subject. More, spirit.

green books

Many, like these, have a story besides the narrative in the book – the story of my relationship with it. My mother-in-law gave me Stalking the Wild Asparagus when I was a newlywed with a house in an apple orchard and a nascent interest in gardening. Ian Frazier’s Great Plains has been a touchstone over the years in thinking about writing nonfiction. Wilderness and the American Mind dates from my college days and still holds my intense interest. Everyone who loves books has these intimacies with individual volumes, the how and why of how your relationship with it came about. Your foundation with it. These begin to make up the essence of a library, the authors that really meant something then and now.

The true reason to get rid of books? Honestly? To collect more books.


I needed space for a working library, all the ones I’m drawing on for my next novel. Any clue as to what the book’s about?


Filed under Culture, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Photography, Publishing, Writers, Writing

6 responses to “Out of My Library


    Nononono. I won’t admit to that. (You’d proffered clues.) In the meantime, I’m immersed in The Gilded Age and La Belle Epoch, waiting patiently for THE SAVAGE GIRL!

  2. You somehow got the access code to my notebooks!

  3. Anonymous

    Anonymous = Ann 🙂

  4. Anonymous

    The story will evolve around a strong little girl in the NYC of the American Revolution… Right? She will encounter disease and shocking violence, and she may help to solve a crime. Yep. That’s what I think!

  5. For me part of the fun of storytelling is not knowing how it will all end! So go figure.

  6. Lessee now … maybe something to do with people who don’t live today. And I am so looking forward to seeing what you do this time! Part of the fun of reading someone else’s work is not knowing how it will turn out, or how the author is going to get there.
    When I was a child I told stories to my sisters as we lay in our dark rooms waiting for sleep. I once asked them why they liked to listen to me, and they told me, “Because we never know how the story will end!” This was a revelation to me. I always knew how the story would end.
    Now I relish that moment of opening a new book to find out not only how the story will end by also how the author gets there.

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