Friday, October 10, 2008

The Great Purge

One of the worst parts of moving is the necessary winnowing of one's possessions, so many of which are laden with memories. And for me the very worst part of this process is trying to decide which books to jettison. I have seven six-foot-tall bookcases (one of them is devoted exclusively to scores and sheet music, and another is for my son's books), and some of their contents will have to be consigned to the flames. But the process of going through them has unearthed some forgotten treasures, making it difficult to choose. There is, for instance, the tiny second edition (1912) of Rainer Maria Rilke's long poem "Requiem," published in Leipzig; someone has written on the flyleaf: "En revenant toujours . . . " and dated it the 22nd of February, 1916. I admit I've never tried to read this book; though I can read German (with a dictionary), like Bartleby the Scrivener, I would prefer not to. I suppose it's the handwritten inscription that has kept me tethered to it all these years. Was it a gift to a lover, a friend, a sister? And the inscription "En revenant toujours" (always coming back) might well be the motto of my own imagined family crest, or at least of this blog.

Then there is Best American Short Stories 1998, which I confiscated from a former boyfriend because it included a wonderful story I'd read that year in the New Yorker, "Every Night for a Thousand Years" by Chris Adrian, a fictional account of Walt Whitman's time as a Civil War nurse (the story can be read in its entirety here). Much later, when I got around to reading the rest of the book, I found another terrific story, "Cosmopolitan" by Akhil Sharma (read it here). Interestingly, neither Chris Adrian nor Akhil Sharma is exclusively a fiction writer: Adrian is a doctor, and Sharma an investment banker. I've read both stories multiple times, but I think this collection is one of the books I'll carry with me to my new home.

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