“Books are Worthless” ~ My Grandmother
While my bath water was getting cold I was thinking over my relationship with books. Naturally, this thought train took a wrong turn and I revisited some issues with family members that I will never fully get over.
As a child I loved the small bookcase I had in my room. It took me a while but I finally got it filled with books thanks to my great-grandmother. She was the only family member that bought me books. No one else understood why I read. I would ask for books and no one would get them for me. I was always checking books out of the school library, and then the public library. Meanwhile my great-grandmother supplied me with a two volume set of Grimm’s Fairy Tales she had as a child along with the works of Andre Norton, Mercedes Lackey, and Ursula K Le Guinn. I remember visiting her and staring in awe are her bookshelves and reading the titles. Sometimes she would give me one of her books. She told me when she died all of her books were mine.
I was 18 when she died. I did not get her books. Her daughter, my grandmother, burned them. When I asked why, she told me they were “worthless”. Excuse me?
From a collectors standpoint, I know there were first editions in there as well as signed books. Many of those books were probably out of print. My grandmother sold antiques for as long as I can remember. Obviously antique books weren’t “real” antiques. From the standpoint of a bibliophile, there is never anything worthless about a book. Books taught me about the Parsley Massacre, about The Zong, and about the trauma of being enslaved. I have learned history – the good, the bad, and all the things that people don’t want taught in schools. Books have taught me myths and legends from around the world. I have learned about colonization and religion and human rights through books. I have been exposed to ideas and thoughts of others. I have read things that made me think, things that have sparked independent research (for fun) to learn about something I didn’t know. Books have made me laugh and cry and experience the full range of human emotion. Books have made me empathetic. Books have widened my world view and inspired me. Books have entertained me for hours. They have helped me work through personal issues and depression. Books taught me how to cook and so much more.
Books are hardly worthless. They contain all the knowledge of the world in them.
Thinking about it now, I see the hypocrisy of my grandmother bribing me with money to get good grades without valuing education. She was more worried about how my grades would look to other people and how those people would judge her. She would have been shamed to have a grandchild who didn’t do well in school.
My mother never high school. She claims it was because of health reasons but I am not sure I believe that. She had a habit of twisting everything where she didn’t look bad. She was a master liar and manipulator. What I do know is that she was no happy for me or proud of me when I was accepted to college. I had a paternal uncle (he died in 2002) who had a PhD in mathematics and did amazing things with it. He obviously got the math aptitude of the family and didn’t leave any for anyone else. I remember my mother telling me, in a very disparaging tone, that he had a genius IQ. She found educated people stuck up and pompous. She didn’t understand why anyone would want an education.
I also have memories of banging out stories on my antique typewriter and being yelled when I would be caught. There was always something better I could be doing with my time, according to her. That went for my homework too. Chores were more important than homework in my house. If I didn’t get the dishes cleaned, it meant she had to do them. If I didn’t get my homework done, in her mind it was no big deal.
My step-father took little interest in me. Thinking back, I am not sure he really knew anything about me. My mother was almost as uninterested, but that is a different story. She did everything she could to keep my biological father out of the picture. As an adult I did track him down and we had a good relationship until he died suddenly.
No one really understood me, expect my great-grandmother, and she lived five states away. I didn’t understand my family either. They didn’t understand my love of books, and I didn’t understand why they were so against them. My grandmother only cared about my education because it would reflect on her. I didn’t live up to her expectations in so many ways so I was already a kind of failure. I will never understand why education and good grades were looked at with disdain.
What I do know is that I am haunted by my grandmother telling me she burned hundreds of books because they were worthless…