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Deborah Gaines Headshot

The Weight of My Past

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I am moving. Since I hate the word downsizing, with its implications of reduction and loss, let's say I am consolidating two households into one -- a very charming one that doesn't need bedrooms for as many people.

As I sort through 15 years of accumulation, I see how lax I've been in keeping up with the changes in my life. It's not just the clothing -- I left the law world in 2008, so why do I still have a drawerful of pantyhose? -- or the bike racks designed for cars I no longer own. It's not even the cassette tapes or the bag containing every one of my kids' baby teeth (although I admit that's a little weird).

No, the things that feel most anachronous are the books. J. and I are serious readers; even after preliminary pruning, we've got the equivalent of a small regional library between us. Bringing them all would double the cost of our move -- prohibitive, we agree, especially since these days, we do most of our reading on tablets.

And so the massacre (a.k.a. donation) has begun. First to go are the foreign-language dictionaries I picked up in ten years as a travel writer -- although I still privately believe I will find a use for the Russian-Italian phrasebook, I can't make a convincing argument for keeping it. This is followed by the complete works of Dickens in hard cover, untouched for at least 20 years. Books written by friends, and books that were friends (Operating Instructions, anyone?). Books that crystallized moments in my life -- reading The Leopard on a bus ride through Sicily in the wake of my divorce, or bursting into tears at the last line of Tell Me a Riddle the week my grandmother died.

There are guidebooks for Eastern European countries that no longer exist; books that transformed my teen years but now just seem silly, like Journey to Ixtlan and everything by Victoria Holt; annotated Shakespeares from college and graduate school (six of them -- I briefly collected); and enough Calvin & Hobbes to build a treehouse. (In J's case, enough Dilbert to build an office cubicle.) The complete works of Patrick O'Brien, Mary Renault , Dorothy Dunnett and David Liss. Okay, and Mary Stewart.

When I handle them, especially the hardcover editions, they feel heavy, musty and irrelevant. So, why does giving my books away fill me with guilt? I feel like I'm putting a beloved uncle in a nursing home. There's no room for him in our new house, and he can't manage on his own in an apartment. But still.