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What’s on your reading list this fall?
I’d been aware of Lettice Cooper’s novel The New House for years before I read it this month. The premise — a whole book about one day, a moving day –is intriguing, if you’re at all interested in houses, minutiae, and time. One thing that tempered my interest in the book was a description I’d read of the author as a Socialist and Freudian. Another thing that kept me from reading it so long was the price. But I found a copy for $1.50 at a barn sale earlier this month. And so I’ve finally read it.
First of all, the socialism. It is there, all right, and we get to watch several of the characters thinking about it. But Lettice Cooper the novelist is ultimately wiser than Lettice Cooper the socialist. And the book is ultimately too philosophical to be a political tract. We see a world in which tradition has been seemingly cut off from the sources of tradition and degraded to mere convention. In such a world, socialism possesses an attraction. One of the characters realizes at one point that socialist ideology gains force as belief in perfect justice in the next life wanes. Throughout the book, the thirst of the characters for the transcendent is palpable. The honesty of inquiry startles.
Second, the book is astonishingly acute as an expose of feminine vices: manipulation, pusillanimity, people-pleasing, imposing one’s own anxieties on others. It looks at the ways that people (“the members of one’s own family and household”) enslave each other and choose slavery for themselves. The concept of liberation is deeply examined. One character goes so far as to identify liberty and equality as opposing ideals.
Third, if you are interested in minutiae (or, for that matter, houses or time) you will find much in these pages to occupy and delight. I smiled inside every time the cats made an appearance because of how sharply they were observed. There are many layers of reality here and they are all unfolded with poignant clarity.
Any book lover will agree, books are hard to part with. We have a certain attachment to unread books, read books, half- read books, beloved books, good books, okay books, books that have that amazing paragraph, chapter, sentence, books that speak to us not so much in perfect prose but in the dovetailed ideas presented within its bindings.
I recently read an insightful article on Kon Marie and The Heartbreaking Difficulty of Getting Rid of Books much of it resonated with me. It delved into the heart of the problem of simplifying a library:
“A book can wait a thousand years unread until the right reader comes along,” said the critic George Steiner, and that’s true. The good ones are incantations, summoning spells. They are a spark, a balm, a letter from home. They contain demons, gods in a box. They are tiny rectangles with the whole universe packed in.
It is so difficult to part with these bound pieces of paper because they are more than just paper, they are microcosms! Each book seems a literary miracle to us. That it should ruminate in the maker’s mind for years, be written down, revised, edited, printed, (if lucky enough) published and then finally somehow find its way, through who knows how many hands- to us! No wonder decluttering books is a painful process!
But it is necessary. Books maybe be microcosms, incantations, but gathered together they build a whole, a library. Such a living organism needs to be reevaluated from time to time, aired out to avoid stagnation (Otherwise it would be just another hoard and we book lovers selfish dragons.)
As a mother, I assess my children’s library often, is it meeting their needs? Have they outgrown the books? Do we need to replace or repair beloved but tattered titles? Are they being fed quality? Are there gaps in the collection? (Spiritual reading should not be overlooked, even – especially in a children’s library. I find that this is too often the case.) Children grow quickly! Their minds and needs change, are we keeping up?
I also need to discern my needs and my own library. Am I inspired, comforted, and informed by what’s on my shelf? Or are there dead spaces? books that once spoke to me but I no longer have a need for? Are there books that never spoke to me but I keep out of mere pretense? old textbooks? We will always have our favorites and there is no need to let those go. And it is always nice knowing that there are books on shelf for when the time comes. However, there is nothing like a thoughtful library, curated to truly meet our needs for today. This is what we should ensure.
Much like a garden, libraries need to be cultivated, trimmed in some areas so that the whole can flourish. Deadheading is the term gardeners use. The simple technique of pinching off old weathered blooms to make room for new ones. It makes all the difference to a rose bush. It makes all the difference to a library. Yet we will encounter the same problem as the gardener: should I trim this autumnal bloom? Just past its prime? or leave it for another day? It is still blooming though petals bruised and dogeared. It is up to us to determine when the book should move on. But rest assured, after all the work of sorting and letting go of books, it is exhilarating to find empty shelf space, room, glorious room! For those books that have been calling our name. Who knows? They could be life-changing.
Step 1. Empty bookshelf.
Step 2. Dust books and shelf.
Step 3. Put books back on shelf.
Step 4. Do you have lonely, empty space on the shelf? An easy solution to this problem (it never fails) – a trip to the bookstore!*
Step 4. Fill in empty slots with new books.*
Step 5. Let your wolfish eyes select the perfect title from your now stunning bookshelf. Sit back and read.
*one may also buy a cat, which also fills in gaps quite nicely (as pictured above) but most people find more books to be an easier solution.
*or new cat.