The classics

Spring Fever has me in its grips. I want to clean all the things.


I was rearranging and re-sorting the library just now (isn’t it fun to call it “the library” instead of “the bookshelves”?) and began to chuck a lot of the paperback mysteries that I’m pretty sure I’ll never get back to. And then I worked my way around to my classics.

Goodness. There is a lot of emotional pull on those shelves. College. Grad school. The literature courses and the literature degree and the literature-centric master’s thesis; the literature professor with whom I was a favorite, who actually ran a Major Authors course on the Bronte sisters at my suggestion, and with whom I had a very sad falling out. All those years of turning to my current assigned novel when the rest of my coursework got to be too much. The Anglophilia… a lot of it is there. Pride in being able to slog through an 18th century novel. Chest-heaving Brontes, dizzy-delight in Dickens, wonderment at Hardy.

I grew up before e-readers and the internet. Before mega bookstores If you wanted a book you had to find it at Waldenbooks or at the library or in your school’s Weekly Reader. If it came from a store you had to find the money to buy it. If your library didn’t have it you were out of luck, because there was no internet and no computers to network libraries for easy interlibrary loans the way there is now.

My parents had two cardboard boxes of paperback classics in the basement. Sometime in my early teen years they pointed them out to me, and I read my way through them. Sheer delight. There wasn’t an internet to look up an author’s complete bibliography, so I took the contents of those boxes as my information. Here are all the Hardy books, here are all the Bronte books, here are at least some of the Dickens books.

I have kept my paperbacks around out of pride, out of nostalgia, and out of hope that some day I’d have a child who would find them and read through them and get as much out of them as I did.

But now there are e-readers and in ten years, when Mimi is the right age for them, who knows what better thing there will be. These classics are out of copyright. They are free to download. She can look up bibliographies on Wikipedia. I’m not sure she needs my paperbacks to become well read.

So my question is, is it worth keeping them on the (much needed) shelves as magical objects, totems to instill bibliomania in the family, or should this literary ship up anchor and sail away from dead-tree editions?

What do you think?


3 thoughts on “The classics

  1. Keep your favorites, chuck the rest. There is nothing better than curling up with a good book, but when it comes to fiction (though not much else), an e-reader is nearly as good as a physical book, and your hand doesn’t cramp from holding it open with just one hand so you can have a free hand to turn the pages. I do think my eyes hurt less when reading real books rather than e-books though, and I even have a kindle touch, which is not illuminated.

    With bookshelves that wide, I would either double stack them, or pack them up for later. Otherwise, to the used bookstore they go! She could always check out the real deal at the library or find them again in a used bookstore if for whatever reason e-readers go the way of 8-track tapes.

  2. Yes, keep the classics! I have an e-reader out of convenience, but if an actual book is available to me, I by far prefer to actually hold the book in my hands and read it. In fact, my husband and I are known to read e-books and then buy hard copies of the ones we really like. Plus, you can’t really “hand down” e-books to your daughter. Unless you have a serious issue with not having enough space for them, I say keep them. What if your parents had decided to chuck all those books because they thought you’d having something better to read?

  3. My husband and I both studied English – he took the British literature courses and I the American lit ones. We own a lot of books as a result, but I like the way they fill the bookcase along one wall of our living room, and I do re-read many of those books. We also have e-readers because we still lack space for new books. So I guess I’d say: do you have enough space to keep them? Then keep them. Do you want/need the space for something different? Throw them out.

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