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Closing Mom's Library

For the better part of two-and-a-half years, I've been clearing out the Hudson Valley home of my late mother. It's been a slow go for a number of reasons, but I'm getting close to finishing the job.

As I'd gradually collected, sorted, organized and -- where appropriate -- trashed various things, one immense dilemma weighed increasingly on my mind: What the hell was I going to do with all of Mom's books?

When I mentioned this to friends, they would say, "Oh, you can just donate them to a library."

"No, you don't understand," I'd reply. "This is a library."

The photo above shows maybe about a third or a fourth of all the books she accumulated over time, from novels to non-fiction, as well as textbooks, musical scores, photo essays, travel guides, even the 1971 Whole Earth Catalog. If I had to put a number on the total, I think at least a thousand would be entirely reasonable.

How could I possibly deal with all that? If I found a library nearby that accepted book donations, I figured it would probably take 100 trips to clear them all out of the house. Not every library does, though, and if they do, they tend to limit how much you can donate at one time. So maybe I'd have to find 100 different libraries -- I could just picture myself driving hither and yon throughout upstate New York ("OK, onto Saratoga County..."). And where could I possibly find enough boxes to put them all in?

What I absolutely did not want to do was simply put them out with the trash (which also would have been a logistical nightmare). It would've horrified Mom, but I didn't like the idea much, either. We're a disposable society enough as it is, after all, and something simply felt wrong about consigning works of literature to the local waste transfer station.

So, I did what most any astute member of 21st-century America does: I whined about it on Facebook. And lo and behold, one of my friends had a suggestion that panned out.

She pointed me to Hudson Valley Book Donations, a team of booksellers who sell online on various marketplaces. As their website explained, "Whatever books we pick up that we can't sell, we donate to libraries or recycle. So your books will either find a new home or be repurposed!" Best of all, they actually come to pick up the books, and tend to prefer large quantities. I filled out their online form and made an appointment.

A few weeks later, about mid-afternoon on the appointed day, an SUV came down Mom's driveway, parked, and out bounded Katrina, the energetic, personable 20-something-age co-proprietor. She laid out the plan: At a glance, she estimated about three hours for her to box and haul the books out to the SUV. If I wanted to help her, it would take less time and she would charge less (not that I was particularly concerned about the cost). I readily agreed to lend a hand; during my previous visit to the house, I'd taken all the books off the shelves and stacked them on the floor in three different rooms, which would make the task a little easier.

For the next hour-and-a-half, as we placed stack after stack after stack of books in box after box after box, Katrina and I held a non-stop conversation that covered, among other topics, how we'd met our respective spouses, our career arcs, the quality of human interaction, life milestones, "Star Trek," and our musical tastes.

The latter subject segued into New England contra dancing, and in the course of explaining its features, I walked her through figures like forward-and-back, do-si-do, ladies' chain and right/left-hand star. I told her there were numerous reasons to enjoy contra dancing, such as exercise and socializing, but that one of its chief attractions for me is the engagement with one's partner, while staying aware of the other dancers in the set. She was enthused and intrigued.

A little later on, Katrina explained that her husband originally started the business. She hadn't really imagined a role for herself in the operation, since at the time she had a teaching job, but finally decided to take a leap of faith and get fully involved. If zeal, enthusiasm and affability count for anything, she and the company should do fine.

Finally, we were all done. We wished each other well and she drove the SUV -- loaded from stem to stern with boxes and loose books -- up the driveway and off to company headquarters.

I walked through the house, marveling at how even more empty it now seemed with the shelves cleared and the books gone. I thought of the diversity of titles and genres that had made up Mom's library: A Tale of Two Cities, Fanshen, Children Who Hate, Ironweed, The Taliban, Catch 22, On Aggression, The Sympathizer, The Price of Power, Giles Goat-Boy, and the entire Master and Commander series.

I had made good use of that library over the years, sometimes returning the books to the shelves, other times claiming them for my own -- or she'd simply given books to me for keeps. If it's true that reading both in depth and breadth is a key asset in the development of a writer, then having access to this library, and that of my father, unquestionably helped put me on the right path.

Sure, it was sobering to contemplate the space where all Mom's library had been. But I'd like to think that at least some of those books will eventually find their way into the homes of other people, who will be enlightened, entertained, challenged or intrigued by what they read. Mom wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

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1 Comment

What a great story marking the end - or rather the evolution - of your mom's library. I love seeing things repurposed. I often pick up a book of mine and think "I should move this along, I'm never going to read this again," but that applies to so many books of ours that the idea of empty bookshelves becomes depressing. So they remain. I'm so glad your mom's books have found a path forward to new homes! And they succeeded in doing what books are (sometimes) good at - connecting people.

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