When I was younger I would deal with stress by baking. I baked cookies and brownies and cakes for my dorm during exam week. I still like to cook, and it is a way to distract my swirling thoughts and feel like I am doing something creative, but I no longer have a dorm full of hungry mouths to feed.
I suppose it was not the cooking itself that calmed my nerves, but the act of doing something that was both creative and occupied my thoughts. Later, sewing often filled that space, or other projects, but there was a slight delay in setting up the sewing room, a glitch, hopefully now corrected, and other kinds of projects can work equally well.
Last week that project was weeding out cookbooks. It was not a new idea, but previously the energy required to sort and eliminate seemed daunting. Better to shut the door on the problem and pretend it wasn't there. Something changed last week; more likely I just needed some short term project to obsess over for a couple of days. I think my initial goal was to reduce the collection by ten percent or so, but the more I got involved in the project the easier it became. I began to see a pattern, a pattern which made it easier to sort books. Although I like books with good recipes, in the end that is not what attracts me. I want to learn something, imagine something, be inspired. Those things can come in many different forms: inspiration, imagination, education. But they are all important. I have books I love that I will never cook from directly, yet they have indelibly changed the way I cook. I'll use a book heavily for a while then abandon it only to rediscover it later. I am not even-keeled, never have been, not steady and constant.
In the end I managed to eliminate twenty-five percent of the cookbooks. There had been books on the floor, and at least one of those spaces will be used for tall pots and small appliances. I'll probably move larger books to the floor on the other side, as they are too heavy for the thin shelves that are there now, although these cabinets will be redone at some point in the future. That will leave me some additional pantry room. All the cabinets in this house are not full, but there are a few items that would be more easily accessed here than where they are currently stored. That seems to be the hardest thing about settling in: arranging and rearranging. But perhaps that is just me. Years ago, I would ask George why something was stored in a particular place, usually a place that seemed inconvenient or odd to me. The answer inevitably was "because that is where we put it the day we moved in (6 years previously). I don't understand; I've never understood.
I took the first group of cookbooks to McKay's to sell on Friday. While I was waiting for my number to be called, I remembered that the Man Booker shortlist had been announced and looked it up. I was thrilled to see that, of the mere seven books I have read, my four favorites made the list, and the three I did not think should make the list were not there. If you read my last post, you know which two are my favorites.
Before I started project cookbook reduction, I had hoped to start Paul Auster's 4321 this weekend. Yet I struggled. Auster's recent novels have not been my favorites, and I wondered if I needed something I knew I could look forward to after just having finished Zadie Smith, an excellent writer in whose work I find no pleasure. I had also read Arundhati Roy's Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and found it disappointing, or perhaps it was just my expectations, just that I expected to find it as poetic as I had found The God of Small Things. It may have been a difficult plan, as when Auster is good, he is very very good, and when he is bad he is atrocious, at least in my experience. In short I either love his books or hate them, with little middle ground.
Perhaps I was feeling cautious. Perhaps I was really yearning for some middle ground.
While I was perusing the stacks, I found Louise Penney's new novel, Glass Houses, and took it home with some of the proceeds of my cookbook sales. When I finished sorting and shifting books I curled up with Penney instead of Auster. I have no complaints; it was exactly what I needed to read this weekend.
But this brief interlude is over, and responsibilities mount. My window of opportunity to get myself pulled into a huge novel may have passed until the middle of next month. We will see.
(Man Booker Short List Photo from NPR, here)