Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 9:40 am | A Few Clouds 69º

 
 
 
 

Karen Engberg: Confessions of a Bookie

Planned Parenthood's annual book sale inspires futile effort to devolumize at home

The 37th annual Planned Parenthood book sale is coming to the Earl Warren Showgrounds this month (Sept. 23 to Oct. 2), and I’m ready — sort of.

Between hosting relatives and traveling, I spent interludes this summer culling through our accumulation of books garnered over the course of 30 years of marriage, four kids who still come and go, and assorted moves and remodels. The course of simplifying my life, which began as a bold sortie against the contents of closets, drawers, nooks, crannies and the garage, almost immediately stalled at the living room bookcase: Old photos used as bookmarks, brilliant notes in margins, titles that resurrected fond memories, heartfelt inscriptions, recipes from vegetarian phases gone by and the certainty that I will finally have a need to reference “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” any day now, all conspired to derail my best decluttering intentions.

It helps a bit to know that the lives of books are counted like those of cats: The book that begins life as a spanking new tome — a gift perhaps, or an impulse buy — will eventually wend its way to a friend, the library or, yes, the Planned Parenthood annual book sale where, forgetting I’ve read the darn thing, I will repurchase it and begin the cycle anew. No wonder every surface in our living room looks as though it’s taken on a literary life of its own. So while it’s comforting to know that this accumulation will one by one find love in other places, tough love has been my modus as I seek to downsize our “volume” of books.

Over the years, I have truly tried to keep our ever-mushrooming collection organized into sections, but these begin to unravel quickly when I run out of either determination or categories. My method (or madness) goes something like this: fiction, nonfiction, my husband’s mysteries — I’m only talking about the books right now — travel, child rearing, psychology, gardening and Miss Manners. I mean really, where does one shelve What Not to Wear or the three copies of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink I unearthed just this morning? And what to do with coffee table books when every coffee, dining room and end table are covered with them, as well as desks, dressers, night stands and the kitchen island?

My favorite section and the largest because I refuse to cull it is “children’s books.” Maybe because I know them all by heart or perhaps because I firmly believe that the solution to the educational woes of this country lies in the simple act of parents reading to their children every day from the time those children are born, this section is too dear to my heart to jettison even one tiny tome. My fantasy is that I will bestow them, a few at a time, birthday by birthday, on the next generation of our extended family. In the interim, however, I learned recently that reading children’s books out loud, in character is a great way to practice public speaking. Who knew? In any event, call me a softie, but the children’s books stay.

The good news for my current de-bookifying resolve is that my husband, whose mystery habit was on the verge of necessitating a large addition to our home, has discovered e-books. And while this is definitely a cause for celebration, I sometimes wonder what the world will be like when everyone is reading on a device rather than from a page. For one thing, we will no longer have bookstores to wander around in during the date-night segue between dinner and a movie. For another, we will have to face up to being alone with our thoughts during the no-electronic-device interlude surrounding take-offs and landings. Does anyone even remember how to do this?

Still, the topic of electronic readers can be dicey. Along with politics and religion, it’s best not to go there during a civilized meal or friendly gathering. People go into their corners on this topic and won’t come out until their cold, clenched fists are pried from their feel-good book or cutting-edge Kindle. I have mixed feelings: While e-books do not require dusting, there is just something about the look and texture of a paper book that is lost in electronic translation.

Take cookbooks, for example. You can’t splatter pasta sauce on an e-reader with impunity. You can’t tuck the receipt from your tour of Picasso’s home in southern France into the Kindle edition of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, then find it years later and smile. You can’t scribble the pros and cons of each effort at a given recipe, or the guests who were on hand for dinner or the reference to a great sangria recipe as an accompaniment in the margins of an e-recipe.

But courage is what I need now as I continue to cull. I pick up my college copy of Democracy in America, dust it off and try to be steady in my resolve. But wait, an old bookmark peeks from between the pages, which upon closer examination offers the following wisdom: “A good book is a friend for life,” under which appears the Chaucer’s Books logo. Now I’m stuck: Alexis de Tocqueville’s tome has accompanied me on life’s journey for nearly 40 years. Some things are not meant to be given up so easily, and this is one of them. So I place it on the shelf reserved for the growing collection of keepers.

It occurs to me that the steel of my resolve is giving way to a soft billow of nostalgia and that the library emerging from this process is less the eclectic and somewhat mindless array of books read — or intended to be read — by our family and more a shared memoir of life and love and children and family. When all is said and done and the dust begins to reaccumulate on what remains, there will be a unique texture to the collection that defies e-booking.

So I will once again attend the Planned Parenthood book sale and will do my best to enjoy just perusing the enormous collection of recycled tomes.

But who am I kidding? I’m bound (no pun intended) to be one of their best customers and will undoubtedly return to my newly simplified living room space with several stacks of books. I’ll plunk them down alongside my iPad and relish their topics and textures until another surge of determination strikes. Then I’ll give them to friends, tote them to the library or redonate them to Planned Parenthood.

Maybe they don’t have to be friends forever, maybe just for a while — maybe just long enough to keep me company between inevitable e-book episodes.

— Karen Engberg is a member of the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura & San Luis Obispo Counties.

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