“Tell me again why we need five copies of the Aeneid?”
My wife looked up at me as she sat at the bottom of the tall bookshelf in the living room that housed my poetry collection. We had been married just under a month, and the Day of Doom had arrived—the day when we finally bit the bullet and merged our book collections together. Boxes were strewn all over the floor and piles of books congregated in front of their destined locations, but we were building a special pile for books on Death Row.
“Well,” I said, “one of those is a Loeb Classical Library volume that also collects the Georgics and the Eclogues, in addition to the first six books of the Aeneid. We don’t have those shorter works anywhere else.”
“Can we at least not have four copies of just the Aeneid? Two of them are the exact same edition.”
“I have all my notes in that one.”
“So do I. The other larger paperback is translated by Lind. Is that a good one?”
“I think so,” I said. “It was recommended to me in grad school by… someone.”
The look of exasperation on her face was swiftly descending into distemper.
“Can we at least get rid of this pocket-sized paperback? The printing is so bad that the words disappear into the binding even when it’s fully open.”
“But the cover art was done by Edward Gorey.” No reaction. “Creator of The Doubtful Guest? The Curious Sofa? The Gashleycrumb Tinies? The PBS Mystery series credits?”
The silence from the bottom of the poetry bookcase was deafening.
“Fine,” I said. “Into the discard box. But we’re keeping my one-volume Lord of the Rings collection, no matter how nice your hardcover set may be.”
And so it went, all afternoon and all evening. By the end of it, we had collected nearly four boxes worth of books we either didn’t need, didn’t want, or didn’t love enough to find a place to keep them. We retained multiple full collections of Shakespeare’s plays—for all the times we had talked about hosting a Shakespeare brunch and failed to do so—and I tossed out my Dorothy Sayers short stories since she already owned the full set. (I hid my copy of The Mind of the Maker when I saw hers. Nobody tell her.) History is her speciality, so there was little overlap to bother about, and the literary criticism section was almost all mine. Her Thomas More collection displaced mine, my Tom Clancy novels displaced hers. It was a true lesson in cooperation, compromise, and tolerance.
The United Nations should have made a visit and taken notes.
At least until I discovered she wanted to file her books from the bottom shelf to the top. “In Japanese fashion,” she claims, but there comes a time when a man must put down his foot, and blame it if our home library isn’t going to conform to accepted Anglospherical standards. I don’t care if she’s short and can reach the bottom shelves easier, some traditions—“The traditions of my fathers and their fathers before them!” I sermonized, possibly with a bit of scotch in me—must be retained and handed down to the next generation.
A few books still waited for the purchase of a new bookshelf to find their home, but we had sorted them all out to the satisfaction of both parties. With only an hour or so left in the day, I pulled our copy of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues off the shelf and continued our ongoing read-aloud project. St. Gregory, it is said, was a great lover of books and missed the quietude of his monastic life when he was dragged to the papacy. But then again, he was the pope, and could declare, pronounce, and define which books would stay and which would go. One wonders if he ever had to put up with priests and bishops borrowing books, never knowing if he would ever see his old friends (the books) again. Maybe love without the possibility of loss is not love at all.