I’m not shy about the fact that I color my hair. My family–for all the agita they give me–actually blessed me with some pretty hearty genes. The exception is the hair gene. Like my mother, I went prematurely gray and I have a monthly ritual in which I go to great extremes to hide my roots.

What this means is about once a month I sit in a hair salon with my head covered with toxic chemicals. I’ve tried bringing books to read, but the chatty environment makes it hard to concentrate on a story line, so I’ve taken to getting my fill of the gossip magazines. Today was no exception. I picked up one (Us? Star? People? I can’t tell them apart) and ran my eye over an interview with a woman whom I had to Google when I got home because I didn’t know who she was. Apparently she is on a reality show because she is in contact with dead people (the Long Island Medium). Given that these are her credentials, I don’t know why I was so surprised/horrified to read this (number 14):

Ack! That’s all I can say: Ack! As you know, I cannot function without books. Last week we were in New York, which is home to my all-time favorite store in the world, Strand, which boasts 18 miles of books. We made our obligatory pilgrimage there. (An aside: I love New York, where the salesperson at Strand didn’t even blink when I asked if they had this in a kid’s size:)
(By the way, they didn’t. And even if they did, the girl thought it might be a *tad* inappropriate for her to wear to school.) I had to truly fight the temptation to re-stock up on books. I have a nasty habit of buying books in bulk and then having a huge backlog to read. Shelf Awareness has a great newsletter, but I forced myself to temporarily stop reading it because it always meant ambling over to Amazon for quick “one click” book satisfaction. At the Strand, I allowed the kids to buy a few books and I then picked one for immediate consumption.

In order to make room for that backlog of books that is stacked by my bedside, I did a book purge. A few years ago I made the policy that I would only keep books that 1) I haven’t read, 2) have sentimental value, 3) I think I’ll reread, 4) are truly my favorite books, or 5) are signed by the author. Yet the books still sneak up on me. Even with my Kindle (which I have come to love as it’s so much easier to read when I have insomnia at 3 a.m. No more fumbling with those clunky book lights), I still have mounds of books that don’t fall into one of these five categories, and they are double stacked, slipped in odd corners, and generally make it hard to find the books I do want. They are the books I’ve read but really didn’t like. Books I reviewed that I would never have read on my own. Books that were relevant to periods of my life but are meaningless to me now. A local acquaintance has an enterprising high school-aged son who has started a little business selling books on Amazon. I’m all for it and was thrilled when he came and took away all our book extras.
(See that book on top? Case in point of books I’ve reviewed that I would never read on my own. Fine book. Just so not for me.)

Of course cleaning out a book shelf is never a quick matter, because old friends need to be revisited. I made my kids listen to some of my favorite first lines of novels:

“It was inevitable the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” –Gabriel Garcia Marquez [who just recently passed away], Love in the Time of Cholera

Snippets of poetry that have resonated with me over the years.

“nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands” —e. e. cummings

“‘But I like it
because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.'” —Stephen Crane

I gleefully showed the kids books they’ll get to read as soon as they’re ready for them. I relived moments, like those pretentious college years (Milan Kundera, anyone?), those high school years when the romantic combination of depression and literature was intoxicatingly seductive (Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker). I can pick out various boyfriends from the books (Ayn Rand for my first live-in boyfriend; Bukowski for a summer fling). Visiting a book is not only visiting the characters but periods of my life.

But the best is looking through the books and finding a treasure from the past. Opening a short story collection, I was confronted with the writing of my great-uncle as a 15 year old:

I love how he noted each story as he read them:

The book actually belonged to “Mrs. Brown,” who lived at an address I didn’t recognize. I asked my dad when my grandmother lived there and he said, “Wrong Mrs. Brown. That’s my grandmother’s apartment address.” And now my reading list has one more “to do”: Read all the same stories my uncle read.

Books are so much more than the story within the pages. So to that Long Island Medium who talks to the dead and who has never finished a book, I feel sorry for you. By ignoring books, you’re missing out on life!