Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Weight of Words


        Lately, I have been editing my collection of books, thinning the shelves, lightening the load of reading material I’ve accumulated over the last decade or so.

Each day I take an empty shopping bag, the sturdy fabric kind with strong handles, down to the storeroom in my basement and I bring it back up full of books. I take the heavy bag to the “used book” counter at the bookstore downtown. They take what they want, give me store credit and I donate the rest to a favorite charity. This has been going on for a couple of weeks now. Over and over again I descend to the storeroom and return with as much as I can carry away. 

I have never been one to resist a good book. It’s not in my DNA. I pick them up at garage sales, at bookstores--new and used-- at airports and library sales. I’m swayed by an illustration, a subject, a cover, an author. I hold the book in my hands and in my mind’s eye I can actually see myself reading it, swathed in afghans, sipping tea, reclining on the chaise lounge in my room. Each book holds the promise of a few moments to myself, the chance that it will improve me, educate me, enthrall me. So I am sold. Then, the book comes home to sit beside my chair, gather dust beside my bed until it is read and, finally, rest on the shelves in my basement. Sometimes I buy a book because someone I know might like it but I either forget to give it to them or realize it wasn’t the right gift after all, and on the shelf it goes.

Every once in a while, when the weight of books becomes too much for the shelves ------and my conscience--to support, I hold myself accountable for the clutter and decide what I will keep for a bit longer and what I will let go.

Some of the books on those shelves are old friends. They are my family. Those books will stay there until I’m the one carried out of the house. Others were impossible to resist at the time, but they’ve lost their appeal.  Some were fun to read but not something I want to keep forever. Others--the travel guides and how-to books, for instance--are obsolete and others are no longer up-to-date. Into the bag they all go. Carrying one bag at a time up the stairs, I feel like I’m secretly tunneling my way out a fortress of words.

Of course, there is that store credit. And I have already brought home one or two new books from my book-selling trips. But that’s something to worry about in a few years. When the shelves fill up again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s weekly column is published by Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at

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