Aging in America – Part VII


It is getting easier to box up books to donate to the friends of the public library used book sale. I donated seven boxes so far and three more are ready to go. Creation of two large sorting tables has helped move library downsizing along.

The room I built for writing has bookcases on all four walls. For the first time in years I am dusting and rearranging them. I’m not sure there was any consistent method in how they were shelved.

A lot of space is taken with collections by author: Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, John Irving, Joan Didion, Jane Smiley, Vance Bourjaily, David Rhodes, Ruth Suckow, James Baldwin, Hamlin Garland, Al Gore, William Faulkner, William Carlos Williams, William Styron, W.P. Kinsella, and others. There is a case to be made the collections by author belong in boxes. If I labelled the boxes, I could draw on the books when I need them, leaving shelf space open for my current research and interests.

I keep thematic collections: U.S. Presidents, Iowa City and Iowa writers, Iowa history, reference books, cookbooks, gardening books, art books, and poetry. One shelf is devoted to a printed copy of my blogs. Another has volumes on ancient history. I find myself asking the question, “which books are meaningful for life going forward?” Not as many as there are.

With retirement during the coronavirus pandemic, things changed to enable this sorting and downsizing. Our automobile remains in the garage most days. The weekly shopping trip has become a special event, for which I shower, shave and consider which clothes I might wear to the store. There is time to work on the project especially when weather is wintry.

Part of the great book sort is learning more about myself by remembering who I have been. A different me bought a copy of The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill at the corner drug store soon after seeing the then recently released film. I used money earned from my newspaper route in grade school. Today, I feel compelled to buy John Irving’s latest book, The Last Chairlift, in part for his Iowa City connections, in part for his discussions of the LGBTQ community, and in part to fill out my shelf of Irving novels. Sorting books juxtaposes all the different versions of me during the last 60 years. There are more than a few of them.

I am lucky to have lived to be seventy. Book sorting is teaching me to be more deliberate in life, to consider each element of life’s construct. I also realize there is not enough time left to read everything I want. If luck holds, I will read everything I need.

One reply on “Aging in America – Part VII”

Yes, it’s rich and strange to look at old books from one’s shelves and recall the person who then bought and read them when. When I read of your “Great Escape” I resonated. For me, for example, to open a book and see my forgotten young handwriting of my name and a dorm room number that I thought of then as permanent as the name.


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