the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Books and Remembrances of Women Past

This was a difficult week. I started packing, initiating the process of leaving the house I have shared with Sophia for so many years. Sure, it’s only taken me six years to get this point of taking action, but I like to take my time.

Holy crap, I didn’t realize that I had accumulated so many books since college. I ended up with twenty boxes of books. And as for the question that V-grrrl snarkily asked me on Twitter, “Have you actually READ them all?” my answer is, “Have you worn ALL of the shoes in your closet?”

I recently bought a Kindle, and proudly announced to the world the end of the physical book. Who needs the physical book anymore? Let’s save the trees! Words are words, whether on paper or e-ink. But as I went through my books this week, in an attempt to weed out those that I wanted to give away, I reconnected with so many of these books, some which I haven’t looked at since college, as if they were old friends I just rediscovered on Facebook.

For me, the relationship of man and book has less to do with the content of the book, or even whether I bothered to read it. It is the living and breathing book itself. The physical book could light a memory that has nothing to do with the story, but about carrying the book in the subway in 1988, and the nodding agreement of the older gentleman carrying the same tome, and feeling as if I was in a private club.

As I prepared my moving boxes, my aim was to give away half of my old books, but after sorting through them, one by one, chatting to each about “old times,” I reduced my giveaway to only three boxes. There was no reason to hold on to “Tasty Oriental Dishes in Five Minutes? After really, after twelve years of owning SQL for Dummies, shouldn’t I just accept that I will always be a DUMMY with SQL?

As a self-diagnosed co-dependent, it didn’t surprise me to discover that many of the books in my collection, even the most unlikely of the bunch, are connected to different women from the past, imaginary and real girlfriends, unrequited love, lucky nights, and utter disasters.

The Whole PC Family Encyclopedia

Amy showed me how to use Compuserve, and then promptly flirted with me online. I was as slow to warming up to this modern form of sexual relationship as was my dial-up modem to connecting to the Internet. She soon found another guy to message, and we lost touch.

History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics

Do I remember anything about this book from college? No. Do I remember this Marxism course or the pretentious professor’s name? No. Do I remember my first experience with getting oral sex during that study session with Hannah after we talked about Marxist Dialectics? Yes. Will I ever read this book again? No. Will I ever give it away? Absolutely not. Never.

To Be a Jew

Michaela was religious. Because of her, I went bonkers and immediately decided to become a rabbi. I ended up going to film school in Los Angeles instead.  Mistake.

Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party

I wrote a play that was performed at a small theater. The play was awful, a ripoff of Harold Pinter’s style.  No one sleeps with the writer in Hollywood. Except Margaret.

Mad Libs

Shari was crazy, but her dirty word suggestions when we played Mad Libs made our short-lived friendship oh-so-worthwhile. I think she is now a Scientologist.

Selling Your Screenplay

Writing Class. Nothing ever happened with Karen. I just fantasized about her all the time in class and never wrote anything.  She is now very successful, married to a woman.

Erotic Arts

This is a very boring book about sexuality in the arts, but when Jamie came to visit for the weekend, I placed this book (along with some cheesy “Book of the Month Club” selection titled “Sensual Massage”) in the center of my bookcase, hoping that she would notice them while checking out my books (something I always do when I go visit someone) and say to me, “Ooh, what interesting books you have, Neil. How would you like to give me a sensual massage and then we fuck like wild beasts?” Sadly, we spent the night sitting on the couch, fully clothed, eating Pop Tarts, and watching a Twilight Zone marathon on TV.

Curious George

I met Sophia online. Our first conversation online was about our favorite books. She said hers was “The Little Prince.” I said, half-jokingly, that it was “Curious George.” This became a personal running gag for years. We even had a large Curious George doll sitting nearby at our wedding. Oddly, someone stole it during the reception.

Books are not about reading. They are about women.


  1. Marie A

    I don’t think physical books will disappear immediately. Maybe some day, maybe not. But if they leave, it will be a slow departure (much like your divorce–dear God, man, are you going for a record?).

    As you note, books hold memories through their corporeal presence–they look different from each other, they each have a distinctive feel. Even with individual tweaks, illustrations, colors, on an e-reader, all books are essentially alike.

    I don’t think humans want to give books up, at least not yet.

  2. Kim

    I wish I had a camera battery right now; I’d be doing the same thing. There’s a copy of Watership Down that will leave my possession only when I’m dead.

    Also, I made a wimpy little whimper when I read about Curious George. That was just perfect.

  3. Brian

    I get this post. Not the women part. Per se. But the relationships with books and the memories they can conjure. There are very specific memories tied to reading Moby Dick for the first time. Or the summer I spent way too many sleepless nights and burned through Camel after Camel reading the entire LOTR collection.

    And my daughter? BIG George fan. She’s arm wrestle you for that book . . .

  4. Lydia

    I love that last line.And I love my kindle but I get this- how books become more tgan the stories inside of them.
    I no longer have the large collection of books that I used to have. When I left my first husband I wasn’t able to bring all of my books with me so I only took my absolute favorites and he agreed to hold the rest. Years later I went back to retrive them…he was still living in our old apartment but with someone new. I was with someone else to actually I was dating my current husband at the time. When his girlfriend came home though I had almost finished boxing up my books- it was awkward to say the least. She tried to clear the air by mentioning that I had great taste in books and that she hoped I didn’t mind that she had read some of them.
    It shouldn’t have been a thing but it was for some reason…the books felt sullied somehow. I had to drop the boxes off at a Goodwill before I left town.

  5. Megan

    I have many books that are like old friends, and they will be very hard to let go of when the times comes. I’m avoiding it like the plague right now.

  6. Danny

    Great post, the theme of which itself would make a great book! But I would still urge you to take a deep breath and get rid of at least 10 of the 20 boxes, if not more–there’s really no reason to shlep all that weight around with you, at least in terms of the books you’re never going to pick up again which I’m guessing is most.

    (That said, you should see my basement. Um…never mind.)

  7. Jessica

    Just moved out last week and was just sorting out my book collection last weekend. I had trouble giving up many books, too, but it wasn’t so much about relationships, just life experiences in general. I found all these really old, embarrasing journals and short stories I should really get rid of, too, but didn’t.

  8. revisingloneliness

    It’s been a long time since I’ve checked in with you, Neil! I have a new blog, now, stop by and say hello. I love that the art book about sexuality is a boring one, that makes perfect sense . . . in a way that I can’t quite articulate at the moment . . . why is it boring? Is it the art itself? Does the overt sexuality almost numb the actual sexuality? This weekend I am going to think about the most erotic art I’ve ever seen and why— but, right now, my mind is blank. So, thank-you for posting this. I wish you only the best with moving.

  9. Marinka

    Welcome to Kindleworld. And if books are about women, then I must be a lesbian. Or at least bicurious.

  10. Marcy

    Every time we move I look at all our books and claim we’ll get rid of most of them. Then I start going through them and can’t bear to part with them. I have an reader, too, and it’s been the only way I’ve been able to read anything since my youngest was born, but I still love paper books and hope they’ll be around for a long time. I wish there were a way to have both a paper and ebook version of the same book without paying for it twice….

  11. Lisa

    I absolutely adore this post. I am in love with books. I’m sick that most of my own are still packed away in Cleveland until I can a.) find a way to transport them here other than mailing heavy boxes and b.) find room for them in our home. In the meantime, we have Saul’s. Seven bookshelves full, which are now overflowing again, after having thrown away roughly 300 or so about a year and a half ago. He said that the girlfriend before me made him throw several hundred away the year before that. I think that when he was single in miserable he hoped to ultimately smother to death in a sea of books. I so get the stories behind the stories concept. I fell in love with Charles Bukowski because the crush of the moment idolized him. I read Dostoevsky to get closer to Saul in the beginning. I’ll never, ever get rid of physical books. I loathe reading on any electronic devices. I’ll never give up flipping the pages and the smell of them. I don’t really believe that they’ll die out any time soon. There’s too much to lose in letting that happen. As a side note, I’m sorry that you’re having a difficult time with the moving process, but happy for you that you’re progressing in it.

  12. Holly

    I get the attachment to books, too. For some reason, I managed to put a lot my books in the garage when we moved into a small house, not realizing that they’d gather rust and never be the same again. It’s like losing old friends.

  13. Jack@TheJackB

    I have a Kindle that I use but I just can’t give up my books. There is a bond there that won’t let me send them away…forever.

  14. KeAnne

    I am slowly beginning to accept and enjoy reading books on my iPad, but reading a tangible book still gives me a thrill. One of the highlights of each year is my library’s annual book sale. I spend hours poring over the books, trailing my fingers along the spines. It’s heaven.

  15. mernitman

    LOVE this post. I went through a very similar weeding-reading process when my wife and I moved nearly two years ago – from the Venice apartment I’d been living in for 17 years. Traumatic and entertaining, and many of the books I kept, I kept for similar reasons (i.e. it’s not necessarily The Book Itself, but what the book means to you). As others have noted, this particular take – books “as” women – is totally worthy of a personal essay that’s online and/or print-publishable.

    All I’d add is: I’ll wager that half of the writers who wrote those books (i.e. the men) WROTE them hoping to hook up with women. So you’re onto an even greater universal truth, here…

  16. Akaky

    Why not kill the trees? They have it coming.

  17. Vikki Ryan/kkryno

    I am the worst at giving up any of my books, the hardest being my cookbooks. Seriously, how many of those does one person need? Evidently a hundred and counting! We have this great bookstore in town called TitleWave where you can buy and exchange books galore, but I just can’t seem to let any of them as well as not many of the other genre. I’ve finally relegated myself to waiting in the car while K. goes in to peruse the stacks. I can’t really put my finger on the reason I can’t part with most of my hoard. There’s something so comforting, satisfying and beautiful as a full bookcase. I love my Kindle, but don’t take away my hardcovers!

  18. Tom G. (@20prospect)

    I finally understand why my wife insists I get rid of my old books. On some level she must sense that they are tokens of women past, and rivals for my affection.

  19. tracy @mamacreates

    my favorite part of this post is the last line.

    no one could ever accuse you of not being a man of conviction.

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