I donated some books yesterday, to that magical used bookstore I wrote about some time ago. I’ve been slowly tidying up my library over the last couple of years, and the donation pile has gotten fairly formidable in size, so I expect it was the first of many trips.
But I finally bit the bullet and made it, handing over a dozen or so of non-fiction books. They were books that I either never read and sort of lost interest in, or books that I read and enjoyed but would probably never pick back up again. I was totally okay with the idea of giving them up.
That is until it was time to hand them over. I had pictured this ridiculous and ritualistic scenario in my head, of me taking out the books one by one, to be carefully appraised by whoever was on staff that day who would, of course, nod appreciatively at my choices of donations, before thanking me effusively.
That didn’t happen. Instead, my girlfriend and I stood in a mostly empty store until a frazzled employee ran in with an empty shopping cart, heading toward the back. He was stopped by an older lady first, for a question, and he was already revving up to head towards the back, with his cart, before I called out to him.
“I brought some books I wanted to donate,” I said, nodding towards the tote bag I had on the ground.
The man nodded. “This here?” he said, pointing.
I was barely finished saying yes before he picked up the bag and already beginning to roll away before I shouted, “Hey wait!”
He looked back at me. “You’ll be… wanting the bag back.”
I nodded in assent and walked over to help him take the books out of the bag and putting them in the cart. And as I took them out, one by one, I hesitated. For a second, I wanted to take them back. For a second, I wanted to say, “No, these are my books. Their home is with me.” But it lasted only a second, because I knew that wasn’t true. Or at least, not true anymore. So instead, I only carefully appraised them and nodded appreciatively before handing them over for good. Once the bag was empty the employee muttered a quick thanks before quickly darting away.
“No, thank you,” I said. And maybe I said that to the man. Maybe I said that to the books. I couldn’t tell you. I just stood there for a second, thinking that it was all surprisingly anti-climactic and bittersweet, before my girlfriend put a hand on my shoulder and asked, in a kidding sort of voice, if I was okay. I replied that I was sad, also a kidding sort of voice, but it was also perfectly true.
I went back home and to my remaining books. I was reading one of them today: Well-Read Black Girl, a collection of literary essays, edited by Glory Edim, where I came across the following quote:
“I can’t remember where I found it, but as with all the books that have stayed with me, when I opened it, it felt like a piece of home.” — Carla Bruce-Eddings, “Amazing Grace”
I read it carefully and nodded appreciatively, knowing that it was true, and hoping that the books I give away do the same for other people. And then I turned the page.