Eugenia Kaledin still remembers the first book she and her former husband, Arthur, bought together — a copy of “The Bhagavad Gita” for a class about India they audited at Harvard in 1950.
That was just the beginning. Over 43 years of marriage, 20 years of friendship, and various world travels, Arthur — an MIT history professor — picked up book after book after book.
Now, three months after his death, Kaledin and their children are left with a conundrum that families of bibliophiles are increasingly facing: what to do with the hundreds of books that help tell their life story.
In this region of intellectuals, used bookstores find themselves inundated with calls as more baby boomers die and others downsize. At the same time, many libraries have faced budget cuts that make them unable to accept the extra stock, and the Internet has rendered many reference books useless.
So families face a difficult and exhausting time finding new homes for beloved book collections.
“It’s tremendously upsetting to me,” said Jonathan Kaledin of the prospect that his father’s book collection would be divided up — or worse.
Books are memories — more so than clothing or other belongings — and, in the case of the Kaledins, also pieces of Arthur’s legacy. The family wouldn’t think of throwing them away.
“This is not the collection of an ignoramus,” Eugenia Kaledin said in a recent interview at the Lexington retirement home where she lives. “This is the collection of a discriminating man.’’
Ken Gloss, owner of the Brattle Book Shop in Downtown Crossing, understands the dilemma. He makes daily visits to homes brimming with books. It’s easy for him to pick up a volume and estimate its worth. But he understands that for families, it’s rarely about money.
“When the books leave, that’s part of the person leaving,” Gloss said.
When Kaledin thinks about her former husband’s books, she remembers times and places, like when they were stranded overnight after a visit to the Calaveras County Fair in California to see the frog-jumping contest made famous by Mark Twain.
There they bought a book by Henry James and another of Civil War photography by Mathew Brady.
“I don’t think he ever realized he was collecting books,” said Kaledin. But nonetheless, they trickled in.
Arthur was 86 when he died in late November. With two degrees from Harvard, he taught history at MIT and his collection overflowed with American history classics. His specialty was Alexis de Tocqueville, and in 2011 he published a biography of the French diplomat and political scientist.
The couple divorced after 43 years of marriage, and Arthur lived in an apartment on Memorial Drive in Cambridge for the past two decades, where his collection spilled into the bathroom, Kaledin said. The books reminded Kaledin of her husband’s thoroughness in preparing for his courses.
“When he taught [Thomas] Jefferson, he would read everything,” said Kaledin, who earned a doctorate, taught at Northeastern, and published several books.
The task of finding a home for the collection became complicated by family dynamics — Kaledin’s three children are involved and not everyone agrees on what to do with the books. All the while, the family is grieving and dealing with the other duties that come when someone dies.
Their son, Jonathan, preferred that the entire collection remain together.
“I know he would have loved to have seen it kept intact,” said Jonathan, an environmental lawyer who lives in Princeton, N.J.
Kaledin said Gloss, at the Brattle Book Shop, wasn’t interested in her collection. She also had no luck at the University of Massachusetts Boston library, which didn’t have the staffing to catalogue them, she said. Professors at Lyndon State College in Vermont were interested but didn’t have a way to pick them up.
The family eventually found some luck with the owner of Barrow Bookstore in Concord, which draws on its location to specialize in American history, especially of Henry David Thoreau and the other transcendentalists.
The store’s owner, Aladdine Joroff, and her sister recently visited the cramped basement of Arthur Kaledin’s apartment building to sift through the more than 220 boxes.
They found everything from the poetry of Wallace Stevens to a book called “The Joy of Mathematics.” They found a book about framed houses of Massachusetts Bay and
one on the art of Botticelli.
In the end, Joroff bought 40 boxes, about 600 books that are now for sale at the Concord shop. Kaledin visited recently to see her husband’s treasures on the shelves. She didn’t mind that some were marked at only a few dollars — she is glad his books are on their way into the hands of a new collector.
Still, the whole affair disheartened Kaledin and made her wonder: Do people even want to read books anymore?
Yes, said Jennifer Herbert, chief operating officer of More Than Words, a Waltham nonprofit that teaches at-risk youths job skills by running a used-book pickup service and stores. Many of Kaledin’s remaining books will end up there.
As they pick up donated volumes, young readers find notes scribbled in the margins, letters tucked between the pages, and they ask questions about the content, Herbert said.
“I think that they respect the books because of the opportunity that it’s giving them,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who still want that book in their hand.”