A room without books is like a body without a soul. (Cicero)

I am a bookaholic. There should be support groups and 12-step meetings for people like me. I’ve always taken Cicero’s adage to heart – the result being, that there is no room in our apartment that doesn’t have at least one book in it.

When we moved in, I did what I always tend to do: get them on the shelves, without really worrying about what goes where. This past week, the apartment has felt small (it’s not), and confining. I’ve been going out onto the roof to breathe and feel space around me.

I didn’t want to feel driven out of the apartment – it’s supposed to be our sanctuary from the outside world, not something that drives us out into the outside world.

I decided that some ‘restructuring’ was in order – and I started with the books. I have never actually gone through my entire book collection – I didn’t want anyone to point out that I had three copies of a title or that some of them looked fit for the trash heap. I didn’t want to have to part with a single, solitary volume. I can tell you (pretty much) where I got each one, and why I bought it. I can tell you which ones were gifts and from who. I can tell you where I was when I read most of them, and what I first thought as I turned those pages or closed the covers at the end.

So, on Saturday night (notice that it is Wednesday already), at about a quarter to midnight, I got up off the couch and started denuding our bookshelves and piling them in the front room. I started categorizing, and dividing. I took a moment with each one, rubbing my hand over the cover or opening to a page and reading a sentence or two.

I wasn’t really intending to do this on the sneak, but I also didn’t announce my intention, and this is why: at some point, Jeremy became cognizant of what I was doing (he’d been wearing his headphones and working on his computer), and with a look of dismay said, “Um…babe…whatcha doin’?” I said, “Do you really want to know?” and he just shook his head and affixed his earmuffs back over his ears. He hates clutter and disarray – well, in this case, I needed to make a mess in order to clean one up (seems to be the way it always goes, doesn’t it?), and it was just better if he didn’t watch (go to your happy place Jeremy).

The piles of books in the picture amount to about one quarter of my entire “library.” I was still pulling books off shelves when I took it, and was only about halfway done with what’s in our apartment. The others are still at my parents’ house, languishing.

And that is what drove me off the couch at nearly midnight – the fact that I am tired of not knowing what I do or don’t have, that I’m tired of having things scattered to hell and gone in storage and whatnot. I want to surround myself with the things I treasure and shed the rest. I want there to be some kind of purpose behind the way that my books are displayed. I want, for perhaps the first time ever, to be able to look around and know what I’ve got, and where it is, and to be surrounded by them the way I’ve always wanted to be.

This may sound a bit psycho, but it’s been a little emotional for me – giving away a book is hard for me. In fact, if a friend would ask to borrow one, I’d tell them I wasn’t quite through with it, and the next time I saw them, I’d have purchased a copy to give them instead of loaning them a treasure that they might never return. Yeah, I know how sick that is.

When I was ten or twelve, my mom bought me a bookmark with that quote from Cicero on it. Even at that age, I got it. Now, I want to live it – differently. If a room without books is a body without soul, then a room with books is a room with soul – and for the first time in my life, I am starting to think about what kind of soul I want my rooms to have. For the first time in my life, I am feeling okay with shedding what I’ve outgrown or moved past. I feel okay with shedding the multiple copies of things. I feel okay with passing these treasures onto others.

Because if I can’t let go of what no longer fits, there is no room to gather in what does.

When we moved, I purged a LOT of things, and it felt good. I felt less burdened. I never made it to the books, because I didn’t want to face that part of it yet. And now, the books feel like the beginning. Once I’m through with them, I’ll sweep through the rest of the house again, letting go of all the things that I’ve hung onto, afraid to let them go.

And when I’m done, I’ll sit in the middle of our rooms, and enjoy the soul that fills them.

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