Saturday, October 23, 2010

Getting Rid of Books

It's time for true confessions: I have books, proudly displayed on my groaningly overloaded living-room bookcase, that I've never read. I've moved them with me (for years) from apartment to apartment to apartment—across international borders, even.

But I've given their pages, at best, a flickering glance.

Some of them I think of as decorative—for instance, three volumes of a philosophy encyclopedia, The World's Greatest Thinkers, published in 1947. I like their spines; I probably picked them up at a garage sale somewhere. Their bookplates announce that they are from the library of Ethel M. Ziegler. I don't know Ethel, but (just between you and me) I don't think she read these books either. Their pages look untouched.

Some of them I've intended to read for years but probably won't. A compendium of Irish literature, say—I like that book's spine, too, and I bet I've read (or tried to read) a lot of what it contains, but I've never opened it.

Don't misunderstand me, though. I have read most of the books I own. Many are books I've read and loved so much that I couldn't bear to part with them. Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go; a biography of Mary, Queen of Scots; and Bury Me Standing, a history of Europe's gypsies. And on and on the list goes.

I have a whole different bookcase with reference books (many of which I use—but a lot of these are "only for show," too: a 1965 thesaurus with a gorgeous mod cover, for instance). I suppose that I think I might need them again. One never knows when I'll need to refer to a QuarkXPress user's guide from 2001 or my second copy of Words Into Type, right? Or a 1999 Lonely Planet guide to Bangkok?

I know, I know. I will never need these books again.

I keep books and display them (or keep them in boxes in case I want to display them in the future), in part, because I like what they say about me: they say that I'm smart, that I'm a reader, that I'm a person who likes books. A library is a vain thing. The books say, "This is a history of my thoughts." I even chose the aforementioned titles with this notion in my head, asking myself, "Should I mention the biography of poor, doomed Queen Mary or poor, doomed Marie Antoinette?" And keeping books just became a habit.

Not too long ago, I divested myself of a "professional collection": most of my collection of etiquette books (and this blog post from 2009 is about the history of that collection). Now, as I prepare to move again (into a substantially smaller space), it's time to ... unburden myself of these books that I don't need anymore. I'll keep a few favorites, necessary reference books, and a few decorative books. I need to make room in my apartment for new books and new thoughts.

It's not going to be easy, but I bet it's going to be good for me.


Erin Hartshorn said...

My husband has informed me that if we ever move back to the West Coast, we're selling everything rather than moving it. If that time ever comes, I know I'm going to be trying to figure out how to keep my books. It's hard to get rid of them -- even the dozens I still haven't gotten around to reading and may never have time to, since new books come into the house all the time.

Charles Purdy said...

It is so hard to get rid of them! This blog post is purely evidence of my procrastination before actually beginning the task.