17 August 2012

Materiality, Evanescence, Books

I moved offices the other day, and while doing so, I got rid of a lot of books -- older editions of textbooks, duplicate copies of plays and epics, editions of Nietzsche's work that I read in college and realized I will never crack again.

I kept a lot of books, too.  Textbooks I use in classes I teach regularly.  Books I keep around for reference as I'm planning lectures.  Many, many books I read in high school, college, and grad school, that I may want to read again some day, or suggest to The Offspring.

(The reality, though, is that if The Offspring wants to read, say To Kill A Mockingbird, I'll probably get him a new copy, or maybe even download an e-book, rather than giving him my old paperback with the pages flaking apart.  Hmmm.)

I also kept a copy of a book on the history of mathematics.  It has "ESTES" in my father's very neat printing   across the top edge of the closed book.  My brother marked books that way, too, though usually at the bottom or outside edge; his handwriting is not so neat.  My own books have "H Estes" scribbled even less neatly in pencil on the title page.

And then there are the books with "Margaret and Helen Abbott" written in a clearly legible but old-fashioned cursive inside the front cover.  Margaret and Helen were twins, the older sisters of my grandmother, and went to college together at Wheaton, where apparently they took many of the same classes; I have jointly signed books in art history and literature. I also have books Helen acquired later, with only her name in the inside cover.

Margaret died before I was born, but Helen lived quite a long time.  She became a college librarian, the head of cataloguing at the University of New Hampshire, and when I was in college we started exchanging letters.  She had a dry sense of humor and a wide-ranging intellect. I'm an idiot: I never kept any of those letters. 

When I was working on my PhD, she asked me once if I was ambitious.  I countered: if she had lived today (that "today" being about 1995), would she have reached higher?  She probably would have, she said.

And so I pick up a volume of Victorian poetry, a textbook of art history, a book about Abbot Suger and Gothic architecture... and how can I get rid of them?

Meanwhile, I've begun acquiring books in electronic form.  After I die, will someone take the time before disabling my Kindle account to browse the annotations I've typed into my books? Somehow, I doubt it.