Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Who Am I?

Drew the black sack shrouds of goodbye over my identity today. About 40 years' worth of 'me'.

I 'did' the bookshelf in the bedroom.

I summoned up the courage last night as I was slopped in bed too tired to reach out and flick the light switch. I surveyed my history. The wall of book spines. The tapestry of my journey so far. I dared to wonder what I would cast aside the next day. I realised that I was feeling ready to cut the umbilicals. But would I?

Armed with boxes, packing tape and an OHP pen for the chosen, and the fresh shiny bin liners for the runners up, I set out on my mission. The far right corner for the Definitely No. The near right for the Probably No But I'll Put You Here For Now. The far left for the Definitely Yes. And the near left for the Ooh I Love You But I'm Just Not Sure I Can Cos I've Got To Be All Grown-Up About This And Live My Life.... Oh But We'll Always Have Paris.

It took all day. And I was very brave. Some had to be leafed through over and over before I could make the final decision. Some were straight out. Or straight in to be fair. Have I turned your pages or even peeked at an end-paper in the last year? Even when the answer was 'Yes You Bloody Did!' I still passed some over to the far right corner. I had a little debate with each one.

So hard to see disappear under the shiny blackness were the childhood copies of Heidi and What Katy Did. But their not being on my bookshelf anymore has not altered my childhood, or adulthood. I have still read them. I still 'have' them. I just can't smell them anymore.

Equally emotional were all those big art books that have defined me since youth, through Art Student days, to Frustrated Arty Type Stuck In A Crap Job years, all the way to Someday The Kids Will Need These fantasies. They are beautiful - but weigh alot. This is a major factor in my selection now. I kept a few of the thinner flappy-backed ones. In fact I even pulled the heavy cover off one and just kept the floppy insides.

Novels I've read - see ya. Novels I haven't - I'll get you out the library. Apart from two which slipped in. I kind of know I'll never read Birdsong but.... And ...... OK.

Poetry sashayed in - but only the thinner books with bigger typeface (and shorter verse).

Self-help and 'inspirational' - were flipped through, reminded, thanked and slid onto the farewell mountain. I can't waste too much more time reading stuff that tells me to DO stuff. I get it.

Presents - all very lovely. Oh you shouldn't have etc. Each one buzzing with guilt waves. I don't expect anyone to keep anything I give them just because. I'm just glad I thought of something at the time, managed to wrap it up and didn't get it thrown back at me immediately....

!!! Sorry Mum but I've got a thing about The Complete Works of Shakespeare. A breezeblock of tiny print on tissue-thin paper. And if that's not difficult enough to read, footnotes all over the bloody page. And if that's not heavy enough, it's in a box too. Minx suggested I take it back to her. Nope. That starts a conversation about oh gods all sorts like: everyone needs a Complete Works of Shakespeare, it reminds her of my actor brother now incapable of a live performance of anything bless him, it was a bargain on QVC, won't the children NEED to know this stuff, is Jack Russell Boy reading yet.... Oh no no no. 'And anyway...' I replied 'Nanny doesn't like Shakespeare.' ??? I frowned back down on the tombstone in my lap. Bye bye Will. If I fancy a spot of misidentification in tights, I'll get a little paperback of just the one play. But chances are, I probably won't.

And that compilation of The Darling Buds of May and its sequels.... Sigh.... The Darling Buds is actually my favourite book. I first found it in our bookshelf when I was about six and devoured it then, and several times over since. It was a lightweight book despite being a hardback, it smelt musty, it had a crispy dustjacket with a jolly picture and it felt perfick in my hands. The next one, A Breath of French Air, had the same qualities. I lapped that up too. I sought out the remaining three from libraries. They were enjoyable but didn't 'feel' the same. Then some years ago Mum bought me 'The Pop Larkin Chronicles' - all five in one volume. It annoyed me. I don't need all five at once. I don't like the stupid title. I even had to remove the cover as I hated the brash picture too. And it was probably published on the back of the diabolical telly series that nearly destroyed my soul BUT on a previous clutter clearing session (probably the last time I moved) I did the sensible thing and chucked the two brittle favourites and kept the new thing. Today I flung the charmless block and didn't even waste a breath.

The truly heartbreaking partings were a couple of oddities. A Taste of Honey - still so vibrant, and written by Sheelagh Delaney when she was 18! I've had this copy since I was 18. I only need to glimpse the slim broken spine to get sucked straight back in. And Whip It - re-named from Derby Girl after the film came out. I've only had this a matter of months but it's in my heart. I first read it twice back to back and have indulgently dipped in again whenever I needed a hit. For the road I inhaled the interview at the back with Shauna Cross, savouring the wisdom of the Your Own Voice-ness. I had earlier tossed aside the manual called Creative Writing tutting that I didn't need rules to hold me back. Reading these two Own Voices was the real thing. I soaked up as much of the dialogue of each every time I pondered, put them down, picked them up again.... These were the most inspirational books on the shelf. But in the spirit of the authors, I decided to leave the baggage behind and find my own way.

I tied up at least a dozen sacks today. I piled them all out in the Drum Room. I feel good!

The books aren't my identity - they're just my footsteps.

What hurt much more was putting all Mr Roving Blade's keepers into a dozen boxes. I had only used four. OK five including the two outsized arty ones that made it through but had to wait for a bigger box to sneak into. He only cleared out a handful. He took about three and a half minutes to know his own mind. I know he doesn't collect much else - just some music books and CDs - whereas I have boxes of art materials, things I've made, things for making, things in the making. But I felt purged of sin somehow with my battles of the day. Rather holier than thou in fact. Next week I shall no doubt be sobbing with regret at my foolhardiness while he calmly peruses the shelves for something soothing, but tonight - I feel as light as an old cheap holiday novelette.

Funnily enough I still appear to be me. In fact, maybe more so.

'No More Sad Refrains' - the title of my Sandy Denny biography, after one of her songs. I let that one go too.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mustn't crumble now! I've already called 'Sense' to come and take it all away. Never a charity so aptly named eh?

You think?


  1. I love this post - and very timely for me as I've been thinking of doing the same (thinking, not actually doing yet). Isn't it funny how books define us? How they remind us of different stages in our lives. But like you say, even packed away out of sight, you still read them - they are still inside you. Even if they go to charity. I struggle with letting go of books because I thought they defined me - who I was. But not so much anymore. I may even get a Kindle and put them on that and let go of the copies.

    or maybe not.

    Sounds like we read a lot of the same books.

  2. Oh now you've got me quite choked so I'll have to be flippant and then I won't cry.

    I see your mother loves shopping channels too. We have a ridiculous assortment of Price-Drop bargains from my mum, although my son loves the four box-sets of Lynx she gave him. For heaven's sake, there must be 20 cans of the stuff.

  3. Oohhhhhh I'm weakening!!!

    My thoughts keep drifting out into the Drum Room where the black sack mound is piled. What if I just rescued those two?

    But there's those other two....

    And that last one....?

    I'd have to climb down off my high horse!!!! Don't know what to do?????

    It's those five books I went and mentioned - they're haunting me now. Can I be a grown-up next time around? There's still about a hundred I will be letting go...... hhhhooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh............??????

  4. It's curious how we become so attached to books; I've still got all my books from my Medieval English degree, although I know I will never read them, plus all my stats and incredibly boring books from my library management post grad then there are hubby's ancient Greek plays (in Greek) and law books, and now we have my son's English and Modern history books from his degree plus town planning massive tomes from his post grad.......we need to be tough and throw the buggers all out as we also have tens of hundreds of paperback novels.....where are those large black bin bags then.... PS Do retrieve Birdsong as it's brilliant! And a great sexy bit near the beginning! Just read that then bin it!!

  5. I promise I'll read Birdsong - one day. I get weirdly over-emotional about anything to do with WWI but I did keep that, and my WWI poetry book that I've kept since my teens. I can't bear to open them - but I kept them!

    I love your list of titles! I did finally kiss goodbye to The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting - wonderful but like.... am I really gonna be worrying about the difference between the permanence qualities of ultramarine versus cheaper 'copper blues' in my daily bumbling along picking up mud-coated socks..... Earth pigments only for me I fear for the forseeable... And as for Ivan Illych's The Right to Useful Unemployment: And it's Professional Enemies which I've hung onto for years cos it started well but ...... I knew I'd never finish it. I liked it on the shelf cos I thought it made me look clever. To myself that is. Who else cares?

  6. Agree with Diney - Birdsong is just a beautiful book. If you do get rid and change your mind, I'll send you mine!

  7. Yes Birdsong is good - I meant to say at the time and forgot. Rescue it!

  8. Birdsong was always in the 'yes' pile - but it has been on my shelves since before my last move (nearly 6 years ago). Someone told me not to read it if I was feeling a bit down as it was a hard one - and that was enough to keep me from opening it as I am very wobbly about WWI stuff anyway. It just sends me into intense melancholia just thinking about it. But I WILL read it eventually! Hopefully before I next move house?