Alongside donating books by the boxful, I have also been giving books away to people who I think will enjoy them. For example, my friend Luis wants to learn how to cook like me, but does not know where to begin. To him I gifted my hardcover copy of Michael Ruhlman’s book, Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, A Cook’s Manifesto. A barista at a coffee shop I go to often is taking a biochemistry course in the fall. I gave her my Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry.
Both these books are precious to me. I have owned and read the biochemistry textbook since freshman year in college and I loved it for the clear explanations and easy-to-follow language. Mine is a well-thumbed copy. I remember studying it from cover to cover for the preliminary exam that I took at the end of the first year of my PhD. Ruhlman’s Twenty gave me a clear path to follow when I was so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of cooking knowhow out there that I felt paralysed and didn’t know what to learn first. Giving these books away actually hurts. I felt a twinge of panic at the moment of handing each book into another person’s hands for good. It’s a bit like losing a reliable friend; who would I turn to now if I got stuck again?
Then why give them away at all? I didn’t need to.
No I didn’t. But I don’t need to hold on to them either. I hold on to them out of sentimentality. Sentimentality is not a bad thing. But it does give rise to clutter. Sometimes I look around my apartment and I have the eerie sensation that I am living in a tomb or mausoleum of my past like an ancient Egyptian king equipped for the afterlife. Ok, that’s both a little extreme and a tad morbid. Sorry.
However, the older you get the more tokens of the past you have and the more things you own that are kept for what they once were to you. Sentimentality means more boxes to drag up flights of stairs or to stack in the basement or the attic.
The truth is that I have outgrown these books. My cooking is now much advanced and most of the things in Ruhlman’s Twenty are now incorporated into my kitchen muscle memory. The biochemistry in my Lehninger now falls within the realm of “elementary background knowledge”. I don’t have it all committed to memory, but most of it I know, and the rest is easily looked up if I ever need it.
So, I am giving them away to people to whom the books will have more value. When you watch a great movie you tell all your friends to watch it so they can enjoy it too, right? So why not share your most favourite books with those who will get out of it what you got. Sometimes the right gift, given at the right time can be the catalyst can make all the difference.