Giving Your Life Away

I don’t mean that literally, of course; I’m talking about moving from a 3,000 sq. ft. house into a 650 sq. ft. apartment, and what that entails with your stuff.

The Mrs. and I were a little magpie-ish, and I think it was because as we were both once self-employed, we watched the pennies carefully when it came to office- and business-related purchases. Both of us hated having to buy office stuff — overhead and operating costs were a constant niggle — but even worse was having to buy the same thing again because we’d tossed the earlier one prematurely. So we ended up with old desktop PCs, old laptops and an astonishing number of monitor screens (I think there were eight, the last time I looked). And having a large garage as a store room just made that worse.

And that’s fine; it’s all become junk now, and I have no problem taking it all to Goodwill. (Did you know that Goodwill is listed as a primary “green” disposer of old computer hardware? I had no idea.)

Speaking of garages, we also had an astonishing number of tools (mostly woodworking, because that’s what I know how to do). But I wasn’t the cause of the Ace Hardware catalog in the garage: it was The Mrs. who, once she’d discovered that I knew how to use those things, insisted that I buy them and show her how to use them; then, having mastered them to her satisfaction, she’d elbow me out of the way and I’d never have to touch them again. Jigsaws, scroll saws, miter saws, drill presses, belt sanders, finishing sanders, routers, planers, nail guns — you name the tool, she used it constantly. She nearly burned out the drill press.

They’re all gone, now; I traded them all with a guy who’s going to put a new floor in the master bathroom in return, and I gave them away without a second thought, because I know I’m never going to use them again, nor will I ever have enough space to do so. There’s no emotion because they’re just tools.

What I hate — absolutely hate — is getting rid of books. As I watch the Son& Heir and Canucki-Girlfriend take the books down off the shelves, I have to make the dreaded Keep / Discard decision for each one, and I have to tell you, for a man whose entire life has revolved around books, it’s like losing knowledge, piece by bloody piece.

(I’ve never bought into e-books, by the way. I tried a Kindle, but it might as well been kindling for all the appeal it had to me. Here’s the reason why: my eyesight is failing [Old Fart Problem #4], which means I have to increase the font size to see the words properly. Problem: I read at about 2,000 words per minute (always have), which means that I’d get a blister on my thumb from hitting the “Next Page” button on a Kindle. The Mrs. even complained about the noise of the constant rapid-fire clicking.)

And that’s the problem, right there: I love the feel of a book in my hands. I love the ability to flip backwards to re-read a passage that turned out to be important later on. I love the fact that once I own a book, it can’t be taken away from me electronically by some algorithm which decides that I’ve had the content “long enough” (as though there’s an expiration date on ownership).

Yet now those same books are being taken away from me, not by an algorithm but by real estate — or the lack thereof — and maybe it’s just because I’m in mourning anyway, but the loss of my books is causing me unbelievable heartache. The more popular ones are going to Half Price Books, the gutless gun-haters, because I need the money. The “good” books (in my opinion), the history books, the philosophy books, the political books — all those are going to Goodwill and Salvation Army because I want them to reach people who really need them.

The Son&Heir estimated that there were about 5,000 books on the various bookshelves scattered around the house, and I’ve had to say good-bye to all but maybe a hundred or so. For a book-lover like me, it’s Sophie’s Choice, times thousands. Here’s the main bookshelf in the library — yes, it was called the library, because that’s what it was — and all the books you see are hardbacks. All but about twenty are gone.

And the same applies to the other eight bookcases located in other rooms and the upstairs den. Two are larger than this one.

This plain sucks.

And just let some wise-ass say that this is a First World Problem, and I’ll come over to his fucking house and burn it down. With him inside.


  1. I can feel that pain. 18 months ago we had a fire and we lost some 7000 books. Histories, math, general sciences and a huge trove of sci-fi. All these were accumulated over a 36 year reading binge, All gone, damn it.

  2. I’m reviewing my possessions with a eye to the future (uncertain).

    Been moving too often and too far to have the luxury of keeping possessions (most emphatically books). When I was young, I used to comb through my dad’s bookshelves when I needed a book to read. He’d even kept some of his college texts, and I thought it would be a cool thing to keep every book I ever owned. But when you have to calculate shipping costs per pound, that was never to be.

    So I’ve never been a hoarder, never had the luxury of being such.

    Now, I find myself surrounded by my rescue items from my last move: my late husband’s possessions. I’ve been hoarding them. I need sweet release. They’ve owned ME for three years.

    Some I will be able to pass along to his oldest daughter. She’s a sentimental sucker and that will relieve me of the burden of allowing them to pass to someone who is indifferent.

    I need to step into my future unburdened. It isn’t easy.

  3. I used to read a book a day, sometimes 2, when I got in the mood to read. When I did, I would read like that until I exhausted my backlog of books I had been buying, or I couldn’t find anything new to read. I too had a dozen copy paper boxes full of old books that I had read and would loan out. Paperbacks don’t age well at all. The Dead Sea scrolls aged better.

    I switched to a Kindle years ago. With a Kindle cover, I could hook my fingers in the cover cord and hold it one handed like a book. Text size changes help tremendously for some books in weird fonts. Once I got used to it, I never looked back, and its hard to beat the cost savings of $2-$4 books from Amazon or Smashwords. Support the self publishers.

    Alternatively there is a free program called Calibre, that will make reading on your PC/laptop very nice. Everything can be adjusted to your liking, and it allows all your eBooks to be format convertible and portable.

    Unfortunately I haven’t read a single new book since my wife passed. I finished the one I was in the middle of, but it took me over a week to finish. My ability to loose myself in the story is gone. I get anxious and distracted, like there is somethings else I should be doing, like taking care of my missing wife. The human mind is resilient but it has its own schedule for things I guess. I still buy books waiting for the day my mind says its time again..

  4. I measure my books in linear feet. Have 125 now but I’m a piker compared to my Dad who upon his passing had 9 cubic yards of books. I’d also like to offer condolences on your loss.

  5. Frequent international moves got me into a Kindle pretty quickly. That, and the ability to buy a book over and have it here in minutes, not wait for months and months.

  6. Could you put some into a storage room that you could rent?

    I have a back log of books and I know inevitably I’ll have to pare them down to a minimal amount. I wish I could have kept the books I had when I was in my 20s. I had a much more diverse collection then.

    If you can’t store your books, the next best thing would be the public library and start hoping that the local library has access to the books you would like through inter library loan.

  7. If you have not already done so, the getting rid of them that is. If you have the time / the manpower. I am an Amazon seller. I can give you access to my seller ap so you can see how much they are worth there. I think I read that you now have a smart phone and that is all your really need to do this, well and about 20 seconds per book. MANY of your books are likely worth WAY more there even after fees than they are in the options you have mentioned. If you set up an Amazon FBA account ($40 a month in fees), Amazon is your warehouse and I can help you make decisions ( give you a rubric) on how to sort by speed / efficiency of sales.

    If the additional work / pain is not worth it. I understand. I too lost my wife recently.

    1. P270,
      Thank you SO much for the generous offer, but honestly, I just can’t find it in me to do all that work for what will most likely turn out to be only a couple hundred dollars. Far easier to give them to Goodwill or Sally — they make a buck or two reselling them, and the people who have to shop there instead of B&N get access to some fine books, most especially the homeschooling texts and courses.
      And my deepest sympathy for the loss of your wife. Damn, it’s all very well writing for my demographic, but it sure comes with a high mortality rate.
      I think I’ll have a single malt, now.

      1. Agreed, there are certain things we would very much like to NOT have shared.

  8. If you can afford it, donate the books to a school or public library. Pass on what you love.

  9. I get what you mean about physical books, they’re excellent, and really have no substitute, but if Evil Kim was at all like Marine Heath, he’d have been all over the kindle at age 20 (had it been a thing then) A device with the capability of having thousands of titles that weighs basically nothing with an extremely long battery life? Grunt’s best friend. Makes deployment a hell of a lot more fun.

  10. I’m in a similar position: lost my wife about three and a half years ago, had to downsize when the house started turning into a money pit. I don’t have nearly the collection of books you do (or did), but the ones I have are mostly still boxed up in storage. I picked up a book scanner a while back, with the idea that I’d eventually scan and donate my books:

    It scans to PDF pretty damn quickly: about as fast as you can turn the pages. The resulting files are fairly large, though, and a bit cumbersome for the average ebook reader to handle (though a more generalized tablet would do OK). Once you have a PDF, though, you can go back later, OCR the thing, and convert it to ePub. This will produce a much smaller file, but depending on how picky you are, it can take a while. (You’ll definitely want to hang onto the PDF until you’ve proofread the whole ePub file, as OCR isn’t 100% reliable and sometimes just spews a bunch of garbage into an otherwise clean file.)

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