A Keepsake Dilemma

Copyright © Julie Elizabeth Leto

Today, I did something horrible. Something that would bring terror into the souls of the most stalwart writer—I started to clean my office. No, I wasn’t procrastinating the end of a book. In fact, I’d just finished. On the eve of each of my last four deadlines, I’d promised myself I would clean my office before moving onto the next book, but things never quite worked out. Galleys would come, we’d take a trip, I’d take a few days catching up on a month’s worth of soap operas then — BAM! — I had a deadline again.

This time, I had incentive. My husband.

My husband is a wonderful man and I love him. But he’s a Virgo. Anyone who is a Virgo or knows a Virgo understands that many times, this particular sun sign can be, well, neat. Organized. Anal-retentive (and I say this in the most loving way.) Usually, he leaves me alone when it comes to my domain, but when outdated computer peripherals and boxes start spilling into the hallway, he has to draw the line. I’m okay with that. If not for his Virgo personality, I’d never clean anything.

So I started with the toughest job—going through my books. Hi, my name is Julie, and I’m a bookaholic. I can say that here because most writers and readers I know are bookaholics, too. I think the politically correct term is bibliophile, but the bottom line is that I often buy more books than I can ever read. I love books, I love authors. I support authors by buying their books. I once made the mistake of counting my To Be Read pile and was depressed for days. Unfortunately, because of my taxes, I also know how much I spend on books every year. It’s scary.

Now, it’s time for me to part with books that while I’d love to read them, reality is slapping me in the face with a big fat, “Get Real” sign. Others I’ve read and loved—but maybe they aren’t quite qualified for my keeper shelf. Keepers, to me, are books I intend to read again. Let’s not discuss the probability that will ever happen, okay? I need some fantasy in my life.

Going through the TBR and the already-read piles, creating stacks to ship to the library, the used bookstore or voracious reading friends is relatively easy…until I come across the books I can’t bear to part with. Can I?

The keepers? No, they are safe, tucked in my closet. My own books? No, those I inventory and will use to run a new contest on my website. The books that cause me great angst are the books I’ve bought from other authors, autographed to me.

Some I’ve read. Some I haven’t. But the thing is, my name is on the title page, most with wonderful, personal inscriptions. At the time I bought these books, I shared something very personal with the fellow author on the other side of the pen. I could probably tell you something special about each and every person who ever signed a book for me.

But reality is looming like my Virgo husband on the other side of the hallway. I cannot keep all these books!

Yet how can I part with them? What would happen if a friend went to the used bookstore and saw my personalized books sitting on the shelves? I’d be horrified and embarrassed. Or worse, what if I give the books away to readers and they end up on eBay, creating profit for some entrepreneur, but not for the author? Short of finding someone I trust named Julie to share them with, what do I do?

The library is a good option, right? Except that most libraries treat paperbacks like recycled goods, left in a bin at the front entrance, free for the pickin’ of anyone who walks in off the street. Garage sale and Flea Market nightmares enter my mind.

I have a serious problem. And I know other authors do as well. I mean, many of us are friends. We truly care about one and another and our careers. Over the years I’ve been published, I’ve rarely run into incidents of true professional jealousy or back-stabbing (we won’t talk about the years before I was published.) So what do I do with these books?

Took a lot of thought and chocolate, but I decided two things. One, I already supported the author by buying the book in the first place. I showed up at the signing, usually stayed a long time chatting, or often, was signing right along with this author. They already received the sales benefit of my purchase. Two, these books aren’t doing anyone any good sitting on my shelves. The author has no idea if I treasured or trashed her work…only I know that I treat these books with great conscience and care.

What’s the best thing I can do for these books? I decided that getting them into circulation is best. Giving another new reader a chance to discover the brilliance of my fellow authors, even letting them read how thoughtful, kind and wonderful these authors are in their inscriptions. But I’m not going to go the used bookstore route (sorry, but I don’t need to profit off of someone else’s work) or the library (too hit-or-miss). Instead, I’m giving them to a neighbor’s mother. She’s an avid reader and reads three to five books a week. When she’s done with the books she buys, she passes them along. To friends, co-workers, neighbors, nursing homes, where ever she thinks the books will be read and appreciated.

Am I passing the buck? Maybe. But by following this route, I know that at least one reader will give these books a chance and that instead of sitting on my shelves, booklovers like me will have discovered the works of authors I care about, even if we only met once at a booksigning. I’m not ashamed to have my name inscribed on the title page—in fact, I’m proud.

So, for anyone who ever met me at a booksigning and was generous enough to buy a book of mine, I hereby give you my expressed permission to pass it along to a friend, even if you never cracked open the cover. If you can pass along my book to a reader who will give me a fair shot, then you’ve done me a great service, above and beyond.