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The Lost Books

Today I am in mourning for some lost books. Here is the story. In 1991 when I left Boston for graduate school in Texas, I packed up all of my beloved books into boxes. I carefully made a list of exactly which books were in which box, and took that with me. I would have liked to take the books with me, but it just didn't make sense - I was moving cross-country in my car, and I barely fit everything in as it was.

Over the next 15 years or so I moved several times - back to Massachusetts, back to Texas, and finally to California. I was always moving from apartment to apartment, and it just never made sense to take on those boxes of books (though of course I was accumulating other books over time). My parents also moved several times during those years, and they and my poor siblings were stuck with the task of moving "Jen's books" from place to place.

Early last year my parents moved out of state, and they re-packaged my books into smaller boxes and shipped them to me. For which effort I was very grateful. However, they told me that a few had been badly water damaged, through inadvertently being left in an unfinished basement, and I said that they should throw those away. No point in paying shipping costs to send books that are too damaged to read. But I didn't ask exactly which books were involved - I didn't want to face it. Boxes of books arrived in California, and I left most of them unopened because I didn't have any space to shelve them, and because I was so busy.

Finally, here I am in a bigger house (still not that "permanent" house I would have though I'd be in by now, but that's another story). I have my lovely new bookshelves, and last night I finally unpacked all of those boxes from Massachusetts, along with my own more recent acquisitions. I sorted through everything, purged a few duplicates, and alphabetized by author. As I got to the end of this process, I had to admit a sad truth. More of my childhood books were missing than I had expected. Much loved, sometimes irreplaceable books.

My lovely old copy of Emily of New Moon? Gone. My Little House books, most of my Madeleine L'Engles and Elizabeth Enrights? Gone. The gorgeous old editions of the Louisa May Alcott books, with gilt text on the covers? Those are gone, too. The copy of Little Women that my dad gave me for some early birthday, inscribed? Nope. The Bobbsey Twins books that were mine, and the ones that were my mother's when she was young, some dozen in total? Only two survived. Also missing: Tuck Everlasting, The House at Pooh Corner, Look Through my Window by Jean Little, Ginnie and the Mystery Doll by Catherine Wolley, my first copy of The Wizard of Oz, eight YA books by Phyllis Whitney, Paddington, Katie John, Miss Osborne the Mop, The Children of the New Forest, and various others, some classic, some obscure, but all loved.

Many important books did make it through. My precious Maida books. The two books that my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Tuttle, gave to me, with lovely notes inside, after I volunteered every morning at the library before school in sixth grade. My Lois Duncans. The Children of Morrow, a book that I loved, and have never been able to find elsewhere. A few of the Noel Streatfeilds made it through, as did most of my Enid Blyton "Five" books and Zilpha Keatley Snyders. My Trixie Beldens seem to all be here ... I don't think I ever had a complete set. There are a handful of books that belonged to my mother, father, or grandmother when they were children. And I did find some miscellaneous favorites like The Trolley Car Family, Nantucket Summer, The Snow Ghosts, a couple of Willy Folk St. John mysteries, and two by Ruth M. Arthur. And, thankfully, all of my yearbooks are here. Perhaps some others will magically turn up - in a mis-labeled box somewhere. But I don't think so.

The fact is I'm a bit of a glass half empty kind of person. I'm having a hard time looking at the books that I do have without mourning the loss of the ones that aren't there. I blame myself, no one else. I should have taken the books back years earlier than I did, even with having to move them around the country. I'm sure that my parents and siblings made a heroic effort to care for the books through various moves. This is on me. I had other things like grad school and starting a company on my mind, and I didn't take the responsibility for my books. I didn't cherish them enough, and now there's a hole inside of me where they used to be.

Even though I hadn't had them with me for 15 years. Even though I have hundreds of other books. Even though many of them can be replaced, probably by copies in better condition (and some I already have purchased newer copies of). I'm still sad today. I always had this knowledge in the back of my mind that they were there. That I didn't need to buy another set of Little House books with the Garth Williams illustrations, because I had one in storage. That those Alcott books would look lovely on the shelves one day. And now, I have to accept that they are truly gone.

The new bookshelves look even more beautiful with books on them, but my feelings about them right now are bittersweet. I am trying to maintain perspective on this. I know that I'm being self-indulgent. I know that there are much bigger problems in the world than the loss of a few books. The important thing is to have the people that I love still available to me. But still... I am mourning my lost books today.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever lost or had to throw or give away beloved books from your childhood? I know that Brenda Ferber recently had her diaries stolen, and of course that's worse, because those can't be replaced.

I had to write about this here because I knew that you, my blog readers, would understand. The moral of the story: keep the books that you love close - don't leave them in boxes or basements for longer than you absolutely must. Because if you do, they might not be there when you're ready for them. And their loss will break your heart.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.