I love books probably more than I love any other sort of inanimate created object. I get a physical rush when I walk into a library, especially an academic library, and if you offered me jewelry, I'd ask for a gift certificate to Amazon instead. At the same time, I feel a sort of reckless rage against all these books right now, and have the irrational urge to cast them out into the snow, which lays abundantly upon the ground tonight. I gave away five boxes of books to the library before we moved. A friend then told me about Bookmooch, a book swap site through which I've given away a dozen or so books; while its method is cumbersome, I'm glad to know that these particular books were sought for, requested, and wanted by the people to whom I sent them. There's also BookCrossing, a site through which you can register books that you then leave in random places for other people to find. The premise of BookCrossing is interesting: it's a sort of aleatoric method for creating an invisible community of connected readers. But for me, it's really just a way to get rid of books that are less-than-precious to me, and hope that whoever finds them will take them home, read them, and love them (though I suspect my books will actually be thrown away if I leave them at indoor locations, and become compost if I leave them out of doors).
Our new house, as it happens, has lovely built-in bookshelves, but my books seem out of place in them. When they were cheek-by-jowl in the rickety homemade bookcases I had for years, my battered copies, mostly second-hand, of books like London Labour and the London Poor, A Muse for the Masses, and Prostitution and Victorian Society, looked at home; here, however, they seem shopworn and suspect. I don't know if I'll ever use them again -- they were dissertation research, and, though I'm at work on a book version of my dissertation, I'm expanding a different area of my research -- but it seems heartless and disloyal to put them, erstwhile comrades of my spartan, disciplined days of dissertating, up for grabs on Bookmooch or cast them to the Fates on BookCrossing.
I am looking at a book right now, Cuisine for All Seasons, by Helen Hecht, the widow of the great latter-day Formalist poet Anthony Hecht. I absolutely adore this book. As with all my books, I remember the circumstances in which I acquired it, bought from a homeless man selling second-hand books and knick-knacks out of boxes by the curb on Broadway between 97th and 98th Streets on my way from the subway to a voice lesson. When I was married to my first husband, I actually cooked from it once in a while, but mostly I just liked reading it. It's a menu cookbook of rather complex recipes grouped by season, interspersed with chatty, literate reminiscences of trips to exotic climes and namedropping of poets (one of Mrs. Hecht's menus is called "A Dinner for Joseph Brodsky"; another is "A Birthday Dinner for Tony"). Doesn't this meal, dubbed "A Farmhouse Lunch," sound just right for the first chilly days of fall?
Roast Peppers with Feta Cheese and Olives
Apple-Custard Tart or Fresh Fruit
As the author notes, "This is the sort of earthy, rustic lunch you might serve to weekend guests or to friends who gather at your house after an outing in the country." Indeed. Or what about this one, perfect for a night like tonight:
Celery and Gorgonzola Soup
Leg of Lamb with Green Peppercorn and Mint Sauce
Spinach, Cheese, and Mushroom Casserole
Mocha Mousse with Chocolate Almond Brittle
While I'm not at all sure if I'll ever cook any of Helen Hecht's proposed meals again, I can't bear to part with her cookbook, which gives me the feeling that there is a world of comfort and peace available to those who order their lives and the seasons according to a collection of recipes like hers. And, while I feel as if I should cast off the old man to begin a new life in my new home, I'm not ready to jettison the books that old man read and cherished.