For the last couple of weekends, my husband and I have been packing up books.
As I have mentioned before – so many times you must be tired of reading about it – my parents-in-law moved into care just before Christmas, and we are selling their house. Although my mother-in-law died a month ago, my father-in-law is still very much with us.
And he loves his books. He has over five thousand books. I don’t think there is a single room in the house without books. There are books on everything! There are books on gardening; on science; on philosophy. There are books on Chinese ceramics; on art; on world history and on wildlife. There are books of poetry and plays. There are novels ranging through Defoe; Jane Austen; Trollope; Dickens and up to the latest Booker prize-winner. He loves classic crime, and so there are shelves and shelves of Margery Allingham; Agatha Christie; Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. Inevitably, there are books about books. So far, I have not come across a book on books about books, but we have another four rooms to go, so I have not given up hope.
He has resigned himself to the loss of the house but has not resigned himself to the loss of his books. As he worked in the British Library and is an author himself, I suppose we should not be surprised.
We are therefore packing up books and transporting them to a storage unit near the care home. We hope, when he asks for “Chemical Elements and Their Compounds,” as he did last week, we can find it.
“Um – which bookcase is it in?”
“The back bedroom, left of the bed, bottom shelf, right hand side.”
We can go to that box, rummage through and find the book he wants. At least, that is the idea. There is no way we have time to catalogue them all.
Inevitably, this has caused some heart-searching for my husband and me. I think, with some apprehension, of my own book collection. I have just done a rough count and I have – gulp – well over three thousand books myself! In twenty or thirty years’ time, it will be our daughters who must dispose of my books and, indeed, all the other detritus of our lives.
We do intend to downsize – eventually – but this has made me think I should start the process of shedding my books – and other collections – sooner rather than later.
It will be as hard for me as for my Father-in-law. For those of us who love books, it seems they become a part of us. E-books are just not the same.
Maybe I could start with just one shelf?
But perhaps I’ll read a few of my father-in-law’s books first: I’ve never read the Waverley novels by Sir Walter Scott – and he has the whole collection.
Oops! I think I may be reading, rather than clearing; adding more books, rather than letting them go…
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