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I can’t take everything with me. Since I’m paying by the pound for interstate storage and moving, I decided that it’s finally time to cull the bookshelf for the next charity bookdrive. Five boxes later, I still have 4 regular tall bookcases and an antique book cabinet full, but I did make some hard decisions. Especially difficult to part with were books with sentimental connections even if I know I’m unlikely to read these particular books again. And even if I did read those books again, I wouldn’t want to read the old mass-market paperback with the small smeared 30-year-old type with no lead between the lines.
There are a few that just couldn’t go.
The Republic: I’ve kept this volume since 1973 only for its memories. My GW Univ. roommate, Kathryn Cohan, and I had freshman philosophy at 8:00 a.m. on something like a Monday. Yeah. We would go to class after having a special breakfast, sit in the back and giggle about the interesting patterns created by peeling the clear protective layer off the paper cover. I look at the cover today and I miss her. She left and moved to Rhode Island after sophomore year, as I was leaving for Richmond and my BFA. We traveled to Greece. Her then-boyfriend was Jon Gettman, who later became the national director of NORML, and a renowned marijuana activist. Who knew?
The Plague. The one I used to read nearly every year well into my 30s. This particular printing, Stuart Gilbert translation, is from 1972, and was for my sophomore French lit class. When I reread it recently, I bought a new hardback edition, but I kept going back to this one for all the marginalia. Every time I read it I find new meaning. As a novel should be, it’s a perfect mirror. Its nature is dark as it examines life and suffering through the lens of the absurd, but Camus’ bleakness was mitigated, I think, in …
The Myth of Sisyphus. A perfect essay. This book is literally falling apart. The pages are no longer bound, but just in a stack and must be turned so. I read it regularly, in a new editon now, and think about it probably every week. You know the myth. You know it’s tragic. ButCamus has wrested from it an ultimately optimistic philosophy. Most of us focus on the unending repetitive toil and futility of Sisyphus’ fate and on the futility of our own lives. But Camus’ interest lies “during that return, that pause” as Sisyphus turns to walk back down the mountain to begin again. This moment of consciousness is when he is most powerful. “He is stronger than his rock.”
“All of Sisyphus’ silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. … At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he comtemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. … I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. … The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
This is the triumph of conscious acceptance over unconscious leaps of faith. It informs my spiritual practice, and helps me keep perspective.
So I’ll pack and move these books, along with others. I probably won’t open them again. But it’s really comforting to know they exist.