A week ago, I launched a new daily reading program at my school, Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute by telling the students about BookCrossing, and by releasing thirty books around the school, with a promise to release five hundred by the end of the semester.
The response has been very positive. Students have tweeted, emailed and even — what’s that other thing? — oh, yeah, told me, face to face about their support. Many have promised to bring in their own books, and three have approached me to tell me they are reading and enjoying books I have distributed. When I enter the cafeteria in the morning or at lunch, people are starting to look up and smile.
This is all very nice, but what’s surprising me as one of the really positive aspects of the whole thing is how liberating it is to give away one’s prized books. Seriously. I’m not just giving away slush. I’ve parted with Margaret Atwoods, Ursula K. LeGuins, Jonathan Carrolls, Jonathan Lethems, Graham Joyces, Kurt Vonneguts and much more.
In the many, many, many times I’ve moved, packing these books has always been a kind of comfort to me. There you go, old friends, into the box — we’ll be together again at the new place. I’ve always like looking at the really good books on my shelves; though I’m never good at remembering plot details, I retain the flavour of each book in my memory, the taste of it on my mind, the music of it in my ears.
So why does it feel so good to give them away? It’s not just the freeing up of shelf-space; the paltry sixty-seven I’ve parted with so far barely even make a dent in our seventeen triple-stacked book-cases. And it’s not generosity, not really. Though I’m very happy to see my favourite books in kids’ hands, that happiness alone doesn’t account for the feeling I’m talking about, the feeling of lightness.
In part, I think I’m giving up at last on the lie that I’ll read those books again. I’ve never been much of a re-reader; I’m a slow reader and there are always too many new books clamouring for my attention for me to justify going back. But as long as Kissing the Beehive was on my shelf, I could tell myself I might pick it up again, immerse myself into that complex and uncuttable series of emotional Gordian knots. Now it’s gone, and the lie has gone with it.
But it’s still more than that. It’s freedom from responsibility. Those books are gone now. I’m not their guardian anymore. Instead of my fretting about who will read them, which of my friends might like them, they are responsible for themselves now. They have to make their own way in the world. Some of them will have to get jobs to support themselves while they search for their next readers. Others will get lucky right away, passed from hand to happy hand. Some may even go straight to landfill.
But they’re not my responsibility anymore. I loved them and I’ve let them go.
Good luck, books. Please remember to write.