In 2013 I almost died. Same thing in 2016. I’m 77. My Dear Companion says, “Those events made me a widow twelve-times over.”
During COVID I built a coffin that spooked my daughter. Fighting off fear, she built a mini-coffin, “My little coffin can checkmate your big coffin.” CBC, the Canadian public broadcaster, then commissioned us to make an animation-documentary called “Rockin’ the Coffin,” where father and daughter talk through our fears about each other’s deaths.
Before I retired in 2008, I gave away half my library. At first graduate students were eager to have their mentor’s books, but soon they would flee, “My mate will kill me if I come home with more boxes of books.”
Overbooked, we die.
Now I’m giving away the other half of the library. The books fill three rooms. My Dear Companion says we have to shrink our footprint. She’s game to try a laneway house in Toronto, but I prefer to die here in our big, brick box.
I’ve been labouring in the library for weeks now. For every 100 books I sort, 10 catch my eye, to set aside and keep. A student gave me that, I found it on the street, it was a bargain. Will I ever read the 10%? Probably not, but you don’t trash old friends. Books are people too.
A title seizes my attention. Common sense: trash it. Intuition: don’t let it go. Must be a message from the gods. Ah, there’s a title page: Double Bind, a sign of my dilemma. Keep that page. Rip it out. Where are my folders? They’re in the recycle bin. Where do I put the page now?
For my retirement in 2008, we held Grimesfest, a The Man Who Gave Himself Away celebration. I photocopied Gordon Shepard’s book. Gordon, you are dead. Sorry. I owe you for the copied book. I had to keep it. Couldn’t give it away. It’s my bedtime reading. I’ll record the book for my wife and two grown kids. After I’ve crossed over, they will want to listen to it, right? Or trash it? Burn it? Their choice.
At the Grimesfest celebration I gave away more stuff. Gave away my father’s boots. Gave away my PhD hood. Twelve years later, am still giving stuff away.
But books are the killers. I’ve tried to give away my library before. Each time a librarian was pleased, at first. Then came the refusals: no more shelf space, the books are yellowing (already rotting), marked up (bad example for students), your name is written in the front (bad example for students).
I tried to convince a librarian in California to take my library. Put my books in the archives alongside Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Marion Woodman, Christine Downing.
I asked the librarian: Why not? My books are free. Just pay the shipping.
Answer: doctoral students hardly use the archives.
What do they use?
Same as you and me: Google, Wikipedia.
Who needs a paper archive?
Second-hand bookstores say, we can sell only three of your five hundred books. Take the rest home.
Now a library in Prague wants my entire library. They will pay for packing and shipping. Happy to have your markings and signatures, they say. Makes the collection worth something.
Oops, the library only wants what it wants.
Can we select?
No. I’m not doing that. All or nothing.
Just give us the titles, Dr. G., then we’ll pick out what we want.
Dumping books is more terrifying than building a coffin. Burning files is a killer too. They are full of photocopied articles and course notes, all marked up in green, red, and blue. Green, go. Red, stop. Blue, recycle.