What to Do with Paper: Books, Letters, and Other Archives

A few years ago we “decluttered.”  We cleaned the sock drawers, threw out  threadbare T-shirts (Don’t Fall Run, ’79; a faded Book Woman; and a vintage Kliban cat), and junked old blenders and other appliances we had dumped in the basement.

Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying-up guru who inspired decluttering, recently alienated book lovers, though.  On her new Netflix TV series,  she advised two writers to weed their bookshelves. She asked, “Will these books be beneficial to your life moving forward?” And her advice sparked a Twitter fest, or do I mean a Twitter war?

Marie Kondo recommends weeding books.

Culling a collection doesn’t sound radical to me: librarians at public libraries do it all the time. The five-year weeding policy at our public library is distasteful to me, but fortunately librarians at university libraries take old books seriously, and owners of used bookstores hoard.

I hoarded my own books for years. That was before black mold and flash flooding attacked our house. Our tidily-shelved and punctiliously-catalogued books had to be stored in boxes while carpenters scraped away at mold that had grown BEHIND floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Needless to say, we did not dare restore the tall bookcases.  And so I discarded dozens of Viragos, NYRBs, genre books, biographies, crumbling diaries of Anais Nin, and 1990s fiction. What did I keep? Penguin classics! (And a slew of other important stuff, of course. Our bookshelves are still bulging.)

And then a flash flood wiped out the files in our basement. (Thank you, global warming:  our state now has a Living with Flooding program.)  Decades of greeting cards and letters from friends—all gone! Correspondence was an important part of my life until email took over.  It’s not as though this archive of letters meant anything to anyone else, but I wasn’t ready to part with it.

An article in USA Today made me especially unhappy about the loss of my letters.  Apparently the post office handled “2.1 billion fewer letters in 2018 than the previous fiscal year. Online billing is a major cause of the downward trend in letter volume..”

And our post office is no longer open on Saturday!  That was a shock to me.

Everything changes, and there’s no use obsessing about it.  But I plan to hang on to the very few letters I continue to receive.

By the way, I enjoyed Lory’s post about Marie Kondo at the new blog Entering the Enchanted Castle.  Here is the link.

My Mother’s Book Club: “Meet Me in St. Louis” or “Tammy out of Time”?

I am the founder and sole member of My Mother’s Book Club.  It’s nothing like Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine: it’s  a way to commune with the dead.  Once a month I plan to read one of Mom’s favorite old books.  It’s not quite a seance, but it helps me feel closer to her.

As a young woman I couldn’t wait to leave my hometown.  My husband and I moved to an ugly  polluted city, where there were job opportunities.  When we returned to the sunny midwest, I appreciated my willful, confident mom.  It was she who raised me to be obstinate, imaginative, and an avid reader.  She bought me books at the grocery store (remember Whitman classics?) and at downtown bookstores (Nancy Drew and E. Nesbit).  She let me take a sick day from school so I could finish The Lord of the Rings.

She was a film buff, and preferred  books  adapted into movies.  And so I thought I’d start with Sally Benson’s Meet Me in St. Louis, which she kept on a shelf in the storage room for years. (I was the only one with a bookcase.)  But the book is out-of-print, and selling for $70 online.  What’s with that?

Instead, I am reading Cid Ricketts Sumner’s Tammy out of Time, which inspired the movies Tammy and the Bachelor and Tammy Tell Me True, starring Debbie Reynolds.  All right, I’ve never seen those two, but my mother took me at a very young age to see Tammy and the Doctor with Sandra Dee and Peter Fonda.

I’ve only read a few chapters, but the book is  very well-written.  Tammy has been raised on a shanty boat on the Mississippi, and has never even seen herself in a mirror (only in bucket of water). In the first few chapters, it’s Southern Gothic meets Our Mutual Friend. (Honestly, there’s an allusion to Lizzie Hexam and her father.) But I’m expecting comedy, because aren’t the Tammy movies about romance?

The ebook is only $2.99!