OPINION: Bears and books

When we decided to sell our big house and downsize last fall, I thought about many things I'd have trouble throwing away or giving away to fit our old stuff into our new space.

Terry Woster

When we decided to sell our big house and downsize last fall, I thought about many things I'd have trouble throwing away or giving away to fit our old stuff into our new space.

The stuff I didn't consider a problem, until I began to sort through it and decide what to keep and what to leave, was the collection of books we'd acquired over nearly half a century of marriage. We had books-a few here, many there-in shelves and cabinets in nearly every room on every level of the old house. A guy thinks he collects a lot of power tools? Try books. I probably had 50 of them for every tool in the garage, and we had a big garage.

When we added a family room and laundry area back in 1978, we had the contractor build book shelves to the ceiling on both sides of the fireplace. Nancy has always collected stuffed bears. I guess you could say we both collected books. The shelves beside the fireplace were a mix of bears and books. We paid little attention to how many of each we had there until it came time to box things up for the new place, for a thrift store or for temporary storage and a later decision on keep-or-toss.

I don't know how you feel about books. Maybe you read them and forget them. I have a friend who reads a lot. He's another newspaper reporter, a veteran of the business, so reading many books comes naturally. I remember in journalism classes and creative writing courses being told that one of the best ways to improve my writing was to read good writing. Prose or poetry, fiction or not. Reading improves writing. I don't know if journalism teachers tell their students that today. I hope so. It makes sense.

Anyway, my friend reads anything he finds, whether in a library on one-month loan or at a used book store in a $1.50-a-bag bargain bin. He buys a lot of books, reads them in a setting or two and then, like as not, gives them away to someone he thinks might be interested in the subject matter or the style of writing. Over the years, I've been the beneficiary of his read-and-release program.


When we started the moving process, I found myself wishing I had been more like my friend. The shelves upstairs and on the main floor had some great books, books someone should enjoy. The basement cabinets were stuffed with books, some I'd forgotten we even owned.

My science fiction collection, most of it in hard cover, took up two full shelves. Some of that stuff was classic-cult classic, anyway. What does a guy do with that? What does a guy do with a set of Hardy Boys mysteries, some of which dated back to sixth grade when Damon Wenzel and I used to let each other read our newest acquisition in the adventures of Frank and Joe? Each time I picked up a book, it was like seeing an old friend.

After a couple of hours of agonizing over the fate of every single book, I had three or four in a big box. I took a break from the emotional task, went upstairs and saw Nancy stuffing bears into a to-throw box. Well, if she can do it, so can I, I thought. The Hardy Boys went. So did the science fiction, all but one John O'Hara novel, most of my Saul Bellow collection and every last paperback.

I kept college literature texts, creative writing material, a few favorite authors and some gifts. I nearly cried as I boxed the others up. Someone, somewhere, had some great reading in their future.

What I didn't throw, and what we didn't have shelf space for in the new place, we stored-four or five boxes of books, including Christmas gifts, childhood treasures, well-known and obscure authors, plain old good stories. I can't keep them forever, and they sure don't deserve to be stashed away in cardboard boxes in a shed.

Friends don't treat friends that way. I have some tough decisions to make, some day.

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