The San Francisco that I lived in during the early to mid-2000s was a recycle economy filled with used bookstores and “antiques” from the Beat Generation. Sometimes people would leave boxes of books on the sidewalk alongside unwanted furniture. I did all sorts of wonderfully fun things I would now never consider doing, like the time my boyfriend and I carried a couch home that we found on the street at 2 a.m. We were coming home from a party where, yes, we’d been drinking and somehow we managed to get it up the narrow flight of stairs that led to our apartment on the second floor of a Victorian walk-up. I was wearing heels. I loved those shoes. They were burgundy red lizard print.
Everyone seemed to be reading something interesting, and I’d happily rummage through the sidewalk books hoping to come across an author I’d never heard of, or the book that might blow open my world-view. Between the used bookstores and sidewalk selections, I accumulated books at a much faster rate than I could read them. When I left San Francisco I shipped six boxes of books to my parents’ house by media mail. Years later, when my husband and I left New York City we shipped some more.
One of my favorite things to do when I visit my parents is look through my collection. I like to think about where I acquired a book and what I’d learned from it. I can attach a specific memory to most every book, but for some I can’t, and for those, I permit, much to my mother’s relief, to be taken for donation. Each visit I give a few more away. What once seemed so meaningful no longer is. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons from the books wasn’t written on their pages – letting go of past emotions offering me a perspective on which ones I shouldn’t bother with hanging onto today.