Monday, September 4, 2017

A Legendary Library

by Linda Rodriguez

Our regular readers of this blog know that my husband and I are downsizing from the large house where I have lived for 42 years and he for 29 years. This house was packed to the gills with heirloom furniture, china, and other household goods, with my fiber-art supplies, with my grown children's belongings (many car- and truck-loads and still not finished there), but above all, this house was packed with books. I had a comprehensive library when Ben moved in, bringing with him his own comprehensive library—to which we've joyfully added through the years.

Repairmen were always stunned at the quantity of books that greeted them when they entered our house, with bookcases covering walls (and some doors) in every room but the bathroom, but they never saw all the bins and boxes carefully stored in closets, basement, and garage. Certain friends, who shall not be named and shamed because I love them anyway, have described our interior-design style as “used bookstore.”

Paring down our library has been probably one of the hardest tasks of this difficult process we are dealing with right now. It has seemed overwhelming. We've floundered around, clearing a few shelves at a time and setting aside the small percentage of those books that we were keeping, until we had packed a few (25) boxes that we gave to charity, but it barely made a dent. (We are taking 6 tall wooden bookcases to our new, quite small house, and I constantly remind Ben that we can only keep enough books to fit in those bookcases.) We had stacks of books that we intended to take in several loaded car trips to a used bookstore in a university town an hour away. We were starting to feel like we were terrible hoarders or something.

Finally, I messaged an old friend who owns the largest used bookstore in our city. I had not wanted to approach him, since he has been quite publicly unwilling to take large quantities of books, even as gifts, because it has become so difficult to dispose of books anymore. I told him that Ben and I wondered if we could bring a few books by for him to look at, that it was hard to give up some special books and would be easier for us to take if they were going to his bookstore, which plays an active role in our thriving literary scene.

He told me that he would love “the chance to take a crack at your legendary library.” He would come over when we were ready, look the books over, pay us for what he wanted, and haul them back to his store. This left us ecstatic, since it simplified our burden. We would decide on which books we were keeping and pack them. Then, once he had hauled off his lot of books, we would simply send the leftovers to a charity shop.

This weekend's painful task of choosing which books to pack for taking to our new home has thus become less chaotic and overwhelming, and we look at this immense collection of books with a different perspective since our friend afforded it the respect of calling it a legendary library. We have been wading through the mass of books with a lighter heart, admitting what a fine, if wide-ranging and eclectic, collection it is and knowing that the inevitable majority of books that we cannot keep will go to a man and his many literate, intelligent customers who will appreciate an eccentric range of books, such as Lawrence Durrell's classic literary novels The Alexandria Quartet, J.A. Jance's Desert Heat, the correspondence between poets Robert Lowell and Allen Tate, The Perennial Garden, Viktor Frankl's Psychotherapy and Existentialism, Story Plotting Simplified, and C.J. Cherryh's Chanur's Revenge.

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear January 17, 2018. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at


  1. Oh, Linda! Books are our chosen children and always so hard to part with. Each volume, even those we know we will never read again, has some story to tell about where we were in our life when we purchased it or received it as a gift. The concept of Legendary Library is stunning. A mark of respect and honor. Sounds like your books will have a great new home while they await future fabulous homes.

  2. Although it pained me, I kept one book, my favorite, from each series I read when we moved. I kept all the children's books to pass onto them when grandchildren arrive. My cookbook collection was paired down to the essentials. It's so hard to get rid of books, but after my sister and I had to get rid of all of my parents' possessions when we sold their house (boxes of slides from their various trips, such as 1964 Panama)--I vowed I wouldn't have my children go through the same thing. I also printed out a copy of my passwords to give to the kids so if something happens, they can delete my accounts and tell people of my demise. Life changes are hard--but you owe it to yourself and to your kids to make the decisions. Good luck. Just gotta do it!

  3. Linda, I feel your pain on this issue. I can't tell you (because I refused to figure it out at the time because I didn't want to know) how much moving my library from New Jersey to Massachusetts to New York to New Jersey to Ohio to Kentucky to Michigan and Georgia (it's now split between northern and southern homes) has cost me in dollars and cents. Books are heavy and interstate moves charge by weight. I used to joke that my houses kept growing in order to keep the books happy.

    The first books I gave away were the hundreds of books I had collected related to my career as an actuary. At the time even that was hard because you never knew when one might have some tidbit of information I wanted.

    Now, any new book I read that I don't find either VERY GOOD or EXCELLENT, I give away to a local library. That I can do without much pain, but I have many, many books that I'll never read again that I am still holding on to.

    I'm glad your best treasures will be available for new homes.

    ~ Jim

  4. I'm completely empathetic here--especially after my wife Tara and I just went through a move ourselves, and even with less years of books accumulated, we had far too many to feel like we could move them easily. Sounds like things are working out, but no easy task--physically, emotionally, on all counts!

  5. I'm trying to follow Helene Hanff's rule: only keep books you're going to read again. Good luck with your move!

  6. Oh, Linda, I feel for you. As a book lover, I know how difficult it is to separate yourself from "good friends." A few years ago we had water damage in our house, and since we were away at the time, mold started developing. We had to clear away an entire floor of our possessions for the clean-up process, including our library of books. Fortunately, only a few books were affected. It taught me to pass books on to another home than endanger our collection again. Now I only keep books that I would like to read again. And knowing that someone else can enjoy the books I collect makes it easier to pass them along. It also helps that I am a big public library user.


  7. Linda, how sad it must be to leave this beautiful library behind. My library isn't quite as big but it is filled with books, two desks, and a large table in the middle for when I'm entertaining, and a smaller table that holds orchids and a few other plants in front of a large window. There are bookcases in every room of my house except for the kitchen and bathrooms. I know I have over a thousand books and maybe more because there are a lot of my
    books stored in the garage along with other things which is why my car is parked in a lean to
    attached to my barn. I do give books to a local book store that sells mostly used books, and
    sometimes to Goodwill and the Church Mouse, and a local library that keeps shelves of donated books to buy for whatever a person wants to pay.

  8. I give most of the books I discard to the library at the prison where I used to work.

    Despite budget cutbacks, the prison needs to employ a trained librarian (usually defined as someone with a Masters in library science) to maintain and facilitate use of the legal reference section, which is available to inmates who want to do legal research. (The alternative would be to supply lawyers to the inmates for consultation. The librarian and the legal reference collection are much cheaper.)

    Since they already employ a librarian, and are anxious to give inmates paid jobs in the institution (if $1 a day can be considered paid work) the prisons often also have a general library.

    The standing thinking goes that anyone who is reading is not plotting to disassemble the plumbing, brew hooch or formulate escape plans, at least at that moment in time.

    And the inmates, many of whom feel that the worst part of incarceration is the boredom with few resources to alieve it, do a lot of reading when material is available.

    But funding for books is sadly lacking.

    One library, in a prison with over 2000 inmates, the material budget for non-legal materials is $500 a year. That just about covers subscriptions to local newspapers.

    A few boxes of novels, including older or less popular ones, and general interest non-fiction, is always welcome.

  9. Linda, dealing with books is the hardest part of moving. Since we moved a lot with my husband's military career, I decided to stop buying so many books and began using the library more - and ended up becoming a librarian, ha! But there are some books that will never, ever, be pried from my hands, NEVER!
    I'm just so glad you have a buyer who respects your collection. Knowing that the books will go to appreciative readers is a good feeling.

  10. Kait, yes, books have that emotional component for those of us who love them--and they always seem to me to be so full of promise and potential. "Oh, I loved that" or "I learned so much from that." I always feel as if I would love it even more or learn even more if I read it again.

  11. Elaine, I've been telling my kids tat they don't know lucky they are. We could have stayed in this house until we died, and then they would have had to do all of this.

  12. Jim, our library system won't take donated books any longer, so that was one big spanner in the works for us until our bookseller friend stepped forward.

  13. Art, yes, moving books is never easy because they're so heavy.

  14. Margaret, that's what we're trying to do also. But it's easy to think you'l reread more books than you think. Our reading time is shorter than ever, and there are all the new or unread books out there that we know we will want to read.

  15. Oh yes, Grace. We had a flood in our finished basement many years that occurred while we were traveling, and we lost all those bookcases and books to mold. Unfortunately, we replaced many of them.

  16. Gloria, your library sounds lovely. Our two-car garage, like yours, was packed with bins of books , among other things, so we had to park in the driveway.

  17. KM, that's good to know. We don't have a prison nearby, however, so it wouldn't solve my immediate situation.

  18. Shari, I hear you on the whole thing with some books that you can never give up. I have my own set of those.