Vat Iss Diss Vord “Purge”?


Elizabeth Creith

Over Christmas my sister asked me a very odd question indeed.

“Do you have a purge rule in your library?”

I almost dropped my eggnog. “A what?” I asked.

“A purge rule—you know, one in, one out. Every time you buy a new book or magazine, you have to get rid of one.”

Now, I know that this woman is actually my blood relative. I mean, I remember my mom bringing her home from the hospital. Even if I didn’t, all I have to do is look at her when she smiles. Every one of us kids has the Creith teeth—slightly crooked incisors with the canines set forward—which may or may not mean werewolf blood somewhere in the family, but definitely means we are all related.

But, really, for a moment she seemed like a complete and utter stranger. What kind of person has a purge rule in the library? One in, one out? How can you live like that?

Back when I was in university—the mountains had cooled by then, but megafauna still roamed the earth—I studied Beowulf in the original Old English. There's a lovely passage where someone has stolen a gold cup from a dragon's hoard and the dragon goes snuffing around looking for it. My professor remarked that this made him think of a librarian looking for an overdue book.

I am of the dragon model of librarian. I never understood Marian the Librarian in “The Music Man”—she let people take her books out of the library! Okay, they were supposed to bring them back, but still.....! No, the only true, right and proper way to run a library—a personal one, anyway—is to amass books, giving them away only under extreme duress or in a fit of inexplicable generosity. 

All right, I'll confess to sometimes passing along books that I’m, incredible as it may seem, done with. Why, only in October I gave someone a book I’d reviewed for Canadian Children’s Book News. (One of the benefits of doing book reviews is that you get to keep the book! And you get paid, too! How cool is that?) It was a needlework instruction book, and I already knew everything in it. It had been shelved between Weaving a Life (a biography of Mary Meigs Atwater) and A History of Hand Knitting by the Right Reverend Richard Rutt, Bishop of Leicester for the last two years, collecting dust. Mercedes really, really, really wanted to learn to knit. I guess I had a brainfart, or maybe the library-dragon was dozing. I gave her the book. Now there’s a sad, empty space between the Bishop and M.M. Atwater which needs filling.

Fortunately, my sister gave me a book card for Christmas.

One out, one in. That’s a rule I can get behind. 

Books mentioned in this column:
Beowulf translated by Michael Alexander (Penguin, 2003)
A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt (Interweave Press, 2003)
Weaving a Life: The Story of Mary Meigs Atwater by Mary Meigs Atwater and Mary J. Reiter (Interweave Press, 1992)

Elizabeth Creith is a biblioholic and incurable librocubicularist. Not only does she buy, read, shelve and stack books, but she also writes them and on occasion makes them by hand. Elizabeth lives and writes in Wharncliffe, Northern Ontario, distracted occasionally by her husband, dog, and cat. The Scriptorium is where she blogs about writing and life. Contact Elizabeth.



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