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Tag: library

Library Goals

I had heard that Umberto Eco had a fantastic library and I remembered thinking–when I first read about it–that it was probably just one large room filled with books. And for some reason, I pictured it as blue. It’s quite possible I conflated that with a picture of Eco sitting in a blue room. But then I recently saw a video of Eco walking through his library to find a book. And wow. It’s definitely more impressive than what I originally had in my mind.

One of my great sadnesses was that I had to severely downsize on my physical library the last time I moved. To give you a sense of how much I had to downsize, I probably had enough books to fill 30 average sized moving boxes and I reduced that to two. I hope those books that used to be mine are now with people who will appreciate them.

My physical library is still growing despite that severe trim, but it’s growing in a different and slower way than it was before since I have limited room and I’ve made the decision to only buy hard copies for reference and non-fiction books. My electronic book library, on the other hand, grows even faster because it’s so easy to obtain books that way. It’s definitely larger than what my physical library ever was although trying to search for a book is a whole set of different problems. But on the whole, I really do like having an electronic library, especially on the cloud, because if I have at least my phone with me, I also have a large part of my library with me, too.

But if we’re talking about physical personal libraries, Eco’s library is library goals. If I had a library like that, I’d probably never venture to any other part of the house except out of necessity.

Bookshop Hunting #4

Note: These are only my opinions and impressions of bookstores, book fairs, book sales, and/or other book-related events I’ve visited. I am not reviewing or ranking them because I’m sure other people will visit these places and have diverging opinions. Everyone has their own ideas and preferences of what a great bookstore should be. If you have a suggestion, feel free to comment on this post and take a look at my bookstore list in progress to make sure your suggestion doesn’t overlap with a place I already know about.

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Warm Springs Book Company (46513 Mission Blvd, Fremont, CA) | Website
I was in the area and Google Maps said that this was here so I figured, why not drive past this place and see if there’s anything? But there’s nothing here, just housing and a busy road. After further Googling, I discovered that this bookstore exists solely online and the address they prefer you to reach them at is a post office box. Anyways, even if there had been a bookstore at this location, it’s probably one of the worst locations to be in. It’s right at Exit 12 on I-680 where cars are exiting the highway and merging straight into Mission Blvd. Trying to get to this place by taking the back roads would be a miracle because there are no back roads.

Half Price Books (39152 Fremont Hub, Fremont, CA) | Website
I arrived at this bookstore approximately one hour before it closed. The arrangement of this store is similar to other Half Price Book stores, so there’s no surprise there. When I was visiting, there weren’t many other customers, so it was rather nice wandering around, browsing the shelves without worrying about bumping into other people. If I lived near here, this would definitely be one of my frequent haunts, but since this takes me about one hour to get here, this will probably end up as an occasional visit depending on my schedule. The easiest way to get here is on I-880, Exit 17 at Mowry Ave.

Flash Sale – Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library (1750 Oak Park Blvd, Pleasant Hill, CA) | Website
The Pleasant Hill Library hosts a couple book sales during the year, the times which are publicized on their website and the town’s monthly newsletter. I didn’t realize this was a small sale until later so I was a bit disappointed with the selection. Last Saturday, they had a couple tables out in front of the library with adult fiction and history on display. There were more books on sale inside the library, but it was primarily literature geared towards kids and young adults. I was trying to look for travel books and dictionaries, but I didn’t find any. I think the larger book sales occur during the summer—at least the one I went to last summer took up most of the parking lot next to the library—and is probably a better bet if you’re looking for a variety of subjects. The library is about one mile west of the Pleasant Hill BART station. If you’re driving, take Exit 48 on I-680.

The Interval at Long Now (Landmark Building A, 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This is a coffee shop and bar, but I decided to include this because there are definitely books here. As Google describes it, it has “a librarylike vibe”. Right at the entrance is a large model orrey and a slim spiral staircase leading up to the second floor. Although you can’t go upstairs, the second floor is open to view from below and it’s just shelves of books. The first floor is the coffee bar, but it also has a very modern feel. I like the look, but I also felt very out of place among all the yuppies and I hastily exited after briefly looking around. There are a number of buses that can get you to the vicinity of Fort Mason: 19, 28, 30, 43, 47, 49.

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Readers Bookstore (Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This is located in the same area as The Interval, just a building over. The bookstore is another division of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, so it’s all used books. However, I’d say the quality of these used books are better than the stuff you’d find at the warehouse, so expect the prices to be accordingly higher. It’s a very cozy bookstore with an entire section on local history. A cafe is next to the bookstore. I’m not sure I’d try their chai again, but their sandwiches are certainly delicious.

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Chronicle Books (1846 Union St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
Since I happened to be in the area, I walked from Fort Mason to this location. This turned out to be a fail. I had been looking at a list of bookstores collected by Chronicle Books and since this was on it, I decided to find it. I did, but it’s permanently closed, soon to be taken over by some upscale clothing boutique. I was a bit pissed, to be honest. The neighborhood is upscale, but seriously, how many clothes do rich ladies need anyway? There are already so many other clothing stores on that street but no other bookstores. Anyways, Chronicle Books still has a store on 4th Street. I hope some silly clothing boutique store doesn’t take over that one as well.

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Bookshop Hunting #3

Note: These are only my opinions and impressions of bookstores, book fairs, book sales, and/or other book-related events I’ve visited. I am not reviewing or ranking them because I’m sure other people will visit these places and have diverging opinions. Everyone has their own ideas and preferences of what a great bookstore should be. If you have a suggestion, feel free to comment on this post and take a look at my bookstore list in progress to make sure your suggestion doesn’t overlap with a place I already know about.

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Pegasus Books Downtown (2349 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
My visit to this new and used bookstore in downtown Berkeley this weekend was actually my second visit ever to this place. I do like it because it’s quite distinctive (a bright blue facade) and it has a nice variety to browse through. On my first visit some time close to the end of last year, I was able to find some beautiful tropical underwater postcards for sale which I have since sent to other postcard enthusiasts who loved them. The lower level of the bookstore consists of new/recent books near the front along with the gifts and stationary near the front counter. To the right of the front door, there is a large sale section along with the art and architecture books. Towards the back left of the store are a section of used records and cassettes and genre fiction. The upper floor contains literature. On this second visit, I was a bit pressed for time because I was running late to a write-in so I wasn’t able to browse as much as I wanted, but there was giant calendar sale going on with a huge selection of art calendars. Nowadays, I no longer get paper calendars since all my scheduling is done electronically, but my teenaged self would have had a field day. This is extremely easy to get to—it’s only four blocks south of the Downtown Berkeley BART station.

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Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
A fellow NaNoWriMo writer recommended this bookstore to me a couple days ago, and I’m really glad I took her advice to check this place out. The front of the store isn’t much to look at, but the inside of this place is enormous—four floors of a booklover’s paradise. There’s a mix of new and used books, with most of the new books are on the first and second levels. There are concrete stairwells at the front and back of the store with maps for easy navigation. The first floor consists of newer genre fiction, children’s books, new fiction, and stationary. The second floor contains new and used non-fiction, mainly art and travel. The third floor has used books about language arts, culture, and science. The fourth floor has used books on history, but about half of the floor, too, is taken up by a separated section with rare and antique books. I was really happy I was able to find a cheap Portuguese dictionary for my Dad (he’s trying to learn the language but for some reason hasn’t been able to find a copy in all the bookstores he’s looked in where he lives), and a book discussing the culture and superstition behind “the evil eye”. I am definitely coming back here again if I can. It’s four blocks east of Pegasus Books or three blocks south of the UC Berkeley campus.

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Mad Monk Center for Anacronistic Media (2454 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
This is just a few doors down from Moe’s. Initially, I had not planned on visiting this place because according to Google, this is not a bookstore. But in reality, it kind of is. What caught my eye was that they had wheeled out carts of sale books onto the sidewalk. Unfortunately, if you go into the bookstore, they make you check all your bags in behind the counter—so if you plan to visit, visit this place first before you shop at other places and do not bring your backpack/purse. If you can get away with it, only take a wallet, your ID, and your phone. The first floor of this place is mostly filled with music records. Along the walls are genre fiction and some other non-fiction (I was able to find some travel books I wanted to collect for only a couple dollars). There is also an upper level filled with books, but I did not have time to explore it. I will probably visit this place again once or twice to check out the sections I haven’t seen, but I personally don’t like the policy about checking in bags. I understand why they have it, but I hate the assumption that I’m a thief first and a possible customer second.

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Doe Memorial Library Book Sale (University of California, Berkeley, CA) | Website
Normally, this isn’t open to the public, but I was able to take a look at this because I was at a write-in here and I know one of the librarians. The sale itself is located on the third floor of the library in a beautifully designed reading room and the inventory consists of books that the library no longer needs in its collection. As far as I know, the next time this will open will be at the next month’s write-in (check our regional NaNoWriMo calendar for dates and times) as well as Cal Day on April 21. A word of warning for anyone planning on coming to the book sale on Cal Day–I’ve heard in past years it’s a melee. Apparently by 9 AM, the lines are extremely long and people bring carts with them in anticipation of grabbing as many books as they can. So go early and bring equipment to haul your bookish treasures away.

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Half Price Books (2036 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
There are several Half Price Books stores in the Bay Area and this is one of them. I actually knew about this chain of bookstores before because of their online presence (it was a great resource in helping me collect the different volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies). So when I moved up to the Bay Area, I was really happy to find out that they also had a physical presence. The store in Berkeley is on the corner of Addison and Shattuck, just one block north of the Berkeley BART station. I’ve been to this one several times last year and it was great for finding deals on postcard books and other stationary. This particular store has placed all the stationary, music, and comic books near the front. When I visited this past weekend, the front section was also taken up with a calendar sale. Subject signs are helpfully hung from the ceiling. The non-fiction books are shelved around the perimeter and the fiction in the center. The children’s books and young adult fiction are in the northwest corner of the store while the enormous station where you can bring your books to sell is in the southwest corner. The middle back of the store has a shelf of clearance books. It’s both a new and used bookstore, but the new books are also discounted. For some reason, I am never able to leave this store without buying anything.

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Fantastic Comics (2026 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
This comic bookstore is next to Half Price Books and I find it to be a hybrid inventory-oriented and display sort of store. The structure of the store is very open concept—to the point that I feel like they have too much space and not enough shelves (or reading chairs if one is so inclined). There’s one major bank of shelves along one wall with the graphic novels shelved spine out, but the rest of the shelves on the floor have them shelved cover in front. I don’t know if it’s the atmosphere or what, but I feel really out of place here.

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Eastwind Books of Berkeley (2066 University Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
If you walk further on from Half Price Books and Fantastic Comics and round the corner to your left on University Ave, you’ll find Eastwind Books. There’s another Eastwind Books in San Francisco’s Chinatown which I had been to before—that bookstore mainly has books in Chinese, Chinese CVDs (the poor cousin to DVDs), and art supplies for calligraphy. So before I stepped inside the store in Berkeley, I was expecting the same thing. But no, it was totally different. Despite being small, most of the books in this store are in English and there are a diversity of books spanning all Asian cultures (as well as some small sections for African-, Latino-, and Native American cultures). I really liked the curation on the titles which included many Asian American authors. In some ways, it’s the complete opposite of the other Eastwind store which is monolithic in its subject matter. However, I also completely understand why this particular store decided on a more diverse inventory. It is, after all, located next to UC Berkeley where there is a diverse student population.

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Goodwill (2058 University Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
Located next to Eastwind, this Goodwill store isn’t particularly unique among all the other Goodwill stores I’ve visited so far in the Bay Area. Most of the store is taken up by clothes and there’s a shelf of books at the back. Again, they had mostly popular books and I didn’t find any interesting volumes there this time.

Bookshop Hunting #2

Note: These are only my opinions and impressions of bookstores, book fairs, book sales, and/or other book-related events I’ve visited. I am not reviewing or ranking them because I’m sure other people will visit these places and have diverging opinions. Everyone has their own ideas and preferences of what a great bookstore should be. If you have a suggestion, feel free to comment on this post and take a look at my bookstore list in progress to make sure your suggestion doesn’t overlap with a place I already know about.

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Readers Bookstore at the Main (30 Grove St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
I really enjoy going to the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library (and anyone with a California address can get a library card, not just in San Francisco!) and one of the perks of this particular library is that they also have a small bookstore here selling some interesting used books. It’s located just inside the Grove Street entrance to the library (and also just a few steps away from the Civic Center BART station), with several shelves and carts of books on all kinds of subjects. These used books are in very good condition, so the prices for them are a little higher, accordingly. If you want to get really cheap books, go to the Donation Book Center sale which occurs monthly.

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Zen Center Bookstore (300 Page St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
The San Francisco Zen Center is located in the Fillmore district, a few blocks north of the bus station at the intersection of Gough Street and Market Street. There is extremely limited street parking, but you’ll have to brave it if you are physically unable to walk up a hill—although it goes without saying that if you’re in San Francisco at all, walking and hills are pretty much non-negotiable. The center has a tiny bookstore which mainly consists of an entrance hallway where a few books and greeting cards are displayed near the cashier and then a small alcove-like room decorated with a number of zen and Buddhist knick-knacks. The books on sale are centered on the practice of zen and Buddhism. When I went there, I only took a brief look because it felt extremely crowded and the lady working the register was telling one of the customers that she was going to close early due to the Women’s March and that normally they are only open on Saturdays. That was an interesting bit of news because according to Google, the bookstore is open every day. It could be that the internet got it wrong and conflated the hours of the zen center with the bookstore. At any rate, I felt lucky that I managed to catch it when it was open so I could take a peek.

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Isotope – The Comic Book Lounge (326 Fell St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This comic book store is located in the same neighborhood as the Zen Center, four blocks north. It has a very trendy vibe with a diverse stock of titles ranging from the well-known DC and Marvel to more independent publishers. The store itself felt more like a display room compared to other comic stores I’ve been to which emphasize their inventory more than their curation. However, there is a children’s section in the back (I entered the store at the same time as a hipster dad and his kid did and they made an immediate bee-line to it. They also seemed on good terms with the store proprietor who appeared very trendy himself) and although the upstairs portion of the store was off-limits, I could see that they had superhero decorations on display. Near the front counter was a wall of toilet seat covers illustrated with black Sharpie. I think this place would be great for window shopping (similar to the Amazon store I visited last week in Walnut Creek), but if I had a specific title in mind and wanted instant gratification, I’d look elsewhere.

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The Green Arcade (1680 Market St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
If you’re still in the Fillmore neighborhood and got off at the bus stop on Gough and Market, you would have seen that The Green Arcade is right there at the intersection. However, on Saturday when I went there, it was open later at noon so I ended up visiting the other stores above before I made my way back here. Inside the store, there is an enormous vintage sign overhead indicating that the space that the shop now occupies was once a Chinese tailor shop in the early 20th century. It’s an independent with new books, but the inventory is obviously curated—I don’t think the owner is trying to please everyone. The front of the store contains California and San Francisco travel books as well as local history. There are no travel books for any other part of the world that I could find. The rest of the store is dedicated to a seemingly eclectic selection of non-fiction (although there’s a subtle theme going on), a tiny shelf of children’s books in the back, and a back alcove of fiction. I definitely think that if you have a certain reading taste that jives with what’s on offer here (off the beaten path histories, tattoos, beat poetry, noir mysteries, paper mache octopuses), this could easily become your favorite store.

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Books Inc. (601 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This particular bookstore is part of several under the same company which bills itself as the oldest independent bookseller in the west. I don’t know when this one was opened since it was not listed on their official timeline on their website, but it is one of several in the Bay Area and the design is modern despite the 1851 start date prominently displayed on the signage. If I had not been actively trying to find this place, however, I could have easily missed it if I were walking by. There’s a lot of construction on the road happening in front of the bookstore and a lot of the foot traffic is also going to the Peet’s Coffee next door. The front of the store mostly displays the new and recent titles as well as stationary and gifts. There is an extensive bargain book section in the back of the store—this was where I also found some Vanity Fair postcards (100 for $10, i.e. 10 cents per card). It’s a good place to go if you want to find a hard copy of a new book or just want to browse. It’s located on the edge of the Fillmore, Laguna Heights, and Civic Center neighborhoods, three blocks north of the Civic Center BART station.

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Arkipelago Books (1010 Mission St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This Filipino bookstore is located South of Market, right between the Civic Center and Powell Street BART stations. Unfortunately, my visit to this bookstore was a fail despite double checking with the hours online AND seeing the list of hours on the door of the Bayanihan Center where the store is located. It was supposed to be open, but despite pressing the button numerous times in an attempt to open the door, the door did not open. Peeking in through the windows, the place appeared dark and closed.

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Alexander Book Company (50 2nd St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This bookstore is located in the Financial District, between the Powell Street and Embarcadero BART stations. This was also a failed visit—but this was not my only failed visit. I’ve tried going to this place several times last year, but it was always closed for some reason or another. This time, they were closed for “inventory” even though their store hours clearly indicated that they were supposed to be open on Saturday. They even had signs recommending other bookstores to visit since they were closed. I may try visiting this place one or two more times before I give up for good.

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Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff (2980 Treat Blvd, Concord, CA) | Website
Visiting this place on the same day as the other comic book store (Isotope) is like night and day. I will admit that I like this one a lot more compared to the one I saw earlier in the city. There’s no pretension in being trendy—it’s located in a shopping center next to Trader Joe’s—but there’s plenty of inventory to browse. Along the walls, there are graphic novels organized by well-known authors and the classics. The back wall also includes manga. The shelves on the main floor has graphic novels and comics from a variety of publishers, organized alphabetically by title. The store also sells some collectibles. There’s a lot of variety—I think anyone can find something they like here. Since this store is located in the suburbs of East Bay, I would recommend driving instead of public transportation if you are pressed for time. From I-680, take Exit 48 and drive east for about two miles to the Oak Grove Plaza at the corner of Treat and Oak Grove. If you must take public transportation, get off at the Pleasant Hill BART station and take bus 311 or 15.

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Pruning the Personal Library

Is anyone really ever excited about moving? The process itself, I mean. The prospect of living in a new place can be exciting, but all the mundane and stressful details that need to be overseen in order to make that happen? I could live without those.

For an inveterate bookworm like myself, pruning my personal physical library is one of those details. I would not be exaggerating if I said that my library is one of my treasured possessions. I couldn’t care less about furniture or clothes–those things don’t hold any sentimental value for me (it might be different if I had any antiques). Books are a lifestyle, a philosophy, a way of being. If I had any choice or had an impractical personality streak, I wouldn’t get rid of any of my books. I like the thought of having a sprawling collection of books, of books that I have read, have yet to read, and maybe will never read. I have slight book hoarder tendencies because I like the possibility a gigantic pile of books presents. Once in a while, I organize the book collection by author or by subject or by genre but they soon shuffle around, getting mixed up and piled up into a mini-labyrinth of words. Maybe that’s why I often dream of mazes. I’ve inadvertently created one of my own at home.

But I must prune that library as it would just be a pain to lug all those boxes across the country (from north to south, that is, not west to east). There are several types of books which I find fairly easy to get rid of–books that I’m pretty sure I will have no interest in, books I’m sure I’ll never read, books that I have read (or partially read) and did not like, novels that I sort of like but also already have an ebook copy. The books I have no problem putting in the “keep” pile include favorite authors, favorite books, book series I have been meticulously collecting, and any non-fiction and reference books I currently or will be using.

Where it gets angsty is my to-be-read pile. What should I prune? Should I keep all of them since I’ve planned to read them all at one point or another? Or should I donate/sell them all off with the philosophy that if I didn’t read them right away, they might not be interesting in the first place? My to-be-read pile isn’t just a handful of books. It’s huge. At the moment, part of my to-be-read pile is literally a pile, but before I started pruning, all these books were on the shelves adding mystery to my library–adventures waiting to be discovered. But now I’m stuck deciding which of these unknown adventures to take with me to my new real life adventure.

Due to genre or author or plot synopsis, some of the books in my to-be-read pile I suspect I will enjoy greatly once I get around to reading them. For those, I’ll probably pack away with the rest of my core keepers. There’s a subset of books I feel guilty about because someone had recommended the book to me or it was an advance reader copy from eons ago which I have yet to get to. Those I’ll also keep because eventually the guilt will become so great that I will read them after all (and possibly write a review for the trouble). And then there are those to-be-read books that I know I would have no trouble getting rid of once I’ve read them once. For this third group of books, I’ve set myself a goal of trying to get through as many as them as I can before I have to leave. And for the ones I don’t get through, I’d have no trouble giving them away. The remaining books make me feel ambivalent. They could be great books, but I simply don’t have enough information to know for sure.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been converting to ebooks for the past year. I have no doubt that if I had not started to do so, my book pruning situation would be even worse. In some ways, ebooks have enabled my book hoarding tendencies. Thousands of books could be stored in almost no physical room at all. Now, I don’t have to throw away any of those books. Instead, I can make backups of those books and have access to them whenever I wish.

If all of my books were in electronic form, I wouldn’t be having this angsty pruning process ahead of me. Then again, I doubt I would be having all these stronger feelings about these books either. There’s something intangible and unreplicable that comes with the physicality of books which ebooks lack. Of course, I feel that a novel can be fantastic in either physical or electronic form–when I read, it’s for the story, not the container that holds those words. And if I were a pure reader, I wouldn’t care about the paper and the pulp, I’d just ditch them all in favor of the electrons. But I’m not just a reader. I’m also a writer, a thinker, someone who has a significant internal life. The intangible thing that physical books possess is a state of mind, an atmosphere where I can just reach out and find something fascinating at random. It’s discovery. There’s not so much of that when you’re just pushing buttons on a device.

I’m not a die hard advocate of either side of the physical books and ebooks debate. I think there are merits to both sides and I suppose I will continue to keep both physical and electronic libraries. But unlike my electronic library which is bloated with everything and anything, the items in the physical library are deliberately curated. If the library is like an external brain, I would say that the electronic version archives the facts while the physical stores the emotions and the heart. That choice–of what I keep and what I give away–would become a conscious act of deciding what to remember and what to forget. And while the forgetting might not precisely hurt, there is the uneasy feeling that I’ve let go of something–an intangible creative spirit, perhaps–that could have been important.