A little while ago I responded to a post in Streetlife in my old neighbourhood, wanting to get rid of some books.

Without asking what kind of books, how many, or anything, I replied that I’d recently given away most of my books and was missing them.  We agreed I’d pick up from her mother’s flat in a mansion block round the corner from my old home.  She said ‘bring a few boxes, there are about a hundred’. Well, there were many more than that.  Luckily I had masses of boxes and bags and we put down six of the seven seats in my car and filled the whole vehicle. It was a tight fit, but we managed to get them all in. As we passed each other going in and out of the flat, filling boxes and so on I asked some questions (though she quite reasonably didn’t seem in the mood to chat). I found out she was an actor, always known she wanted to act. I asked about her mother, who had passed away. Also an actor.

She seemed happy that I was taking everything, rather than picking out individual volumes I wanted. Quick and easy, job done. Privately I worried where I was going to put them all, given how little space I have in my new home. Worried I’d end up taking loads to a charity shop.  Only there are none near me, and they’re absolutely bumper to bumper in her neighbourhood, where I used to take cartloads of books prior to the move.  (They used to refuse them at the door: we’d have to take just one box to each of the many shops on the high street, and begin again a few days later.)  As I piled them in containers I noticed with glee that there were some Pevsners, some books about country churches in Suffolk, a Thracian Treasures coffee table book, and I knew they would make my son very happy.  We were lucky – they could all have been bestselling paperbacks, which would have been of little interest.

I wish I had filmed my son as he came home to see the whole downstairs filled to bursting with books. So happy!  Like a child in Santa’s Grotto. He sifted through the piles, and has kept more than he can shake a stick at. I made a stack of biographies, which my mother will devour and instantly forget. Surprisingly for someone who loves to read as much as I do, I wasn’t tempted by any for myself.  I suppose because there were no novels, no humour, no psychology (hm, is that what I read?)  A lot of books about cats, some old cookery books, a great deal of poetry.  My son has asked if he can donate some of the old section-bound books to the school bindery for practice. He’s now on a school trip, leaving stacks and stacks of books in the sitting room – his bedroom is too full, even though the first thing I did when we moved was buy masses of shelves for his already impressive library.

While sorting, he handed me what looked like an old clothbound book, only it didn’t feel heavy enough. It was hollow, with some cash inside, and an awful lot of elastic bands. I emailed the donor to tell her, and to say I’d bring round the box if she wanted it, otherwise just transfer the money. She expressed surprise at our honesty, and asked me to transfer the money, apart from a little reward for my son. I will keep the hollow book. Win win.

My daughter, home from uni for a few days, selected a couple to keep – Greek verse – and sat and typed the ISBNs of the unwanted ones into one of those sites that sell books, and a few of them were worth a little money. Depressing really, how many books seem to be valued at about 8p or nothing  (most of them they won’t take at all).  Still, presumably the ones they do take don’t just get pulped, which is apparently the fate of most of those one takes to charity shops. The amount generated will probably cover the cost of petrol going to get them, which feels about right. I didn’t expect to make money out of the exercise, but to enjoy the books and the process.

Anyway, it was interesting. I googled her name. She is a successful stage actress (I felt guilty at not having recognised her name or face), so was her mother. And her father, and  her brothers, and her husband!  I can’t remember the last time I went to the theatre. Oh yes: took my son to a teeny weeny production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle. (I loved Brecht as a student, and he is studying German now.) But it has been ten years or more since I’ve been to a show in the West End.  Too expensive.

So: a lot of fun and interest, and all for free, and everyone is happy. Mind you, I can hardly walk through the house, and will have a job disposing of the ones we have no use for. I had conceived originally of a plan to catalogue them all as a sort of homage to the original owner and just a weird thing to have, but decided life is too short.

Anyway. Number 4047 in the list of things I would probably never have done had I stayed married. I’d used Streetlife before but always been the one giving stuff away.

Funny feeling – bit awkward to think of myself as a recipient of charity – but I prefer to consider that we did one another a service. Not a zero sum gain. Life expands. Utility expands. Interesting.


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Florence Feynman

I am a middle aged, middle class woman, thinking.

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