I love books.
I (used to?) collect books.
I knew I had a lot of books. I knew the published diary collection was about 700-800 books and that took up six over-packed shelves in the living room plus an extra box (an early 17 volume edition of Pepys) upstairs.
There was a shelf full of cookbooks on the porch, a shelf on the stairway landing with Atlases, nature books, tree books, coffee table books, destination guides, and a smattering of art books. A shelf at the top of the stairs had some duplicate diaries, fictional diaries (not quite worthy of being in the diary collection but they were diaries nonetheless and had to be kept) and books also by diarists (but not diaries) and books about diarists (mostly with a focus on some other aspect of their lives) as well as collections of letters (often by diarists.) (Yes, I have a diary fetish.) The 3 shelves in my office held random overflow books, some waiting to be processed officially into the diary collection, some about coffee and business, my map collection and a gazillion magazines. One of these shelves was mostly CDs. A bulging shelf in my bedroom was for the erotica collection, the kama sutra collection, metaphysical, spiritual and new age-y self help books (think Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, gems and minerals, Goddess Histories of the World), Hippie books, rock-n-roll and 60s books, as well as rare books, signed books (Abbie Hoffman, Ken Kesey, Alan Ginsberg!), and generally odd books (Wisconsin Death Trip anyone? Go ahead – look it up – I have a first edition.) A thinner tall shelf in my bedroom housed books on writing, wealth, investing and house flipping. My bedroom has a balcony on the sun porch – I had a bookshelf there too which contained a vintage collection of travel books (many of them about early African travelers like Beryl Markham and Osa Johnson) as well as a large collection of contemporary travel lit (Who can resist books with titles like The Sex Lives of Cannibals or No Touch Monkey?) and other various non-fiction. This was also the shelf for some much-loved and oft-looked-at books, and all my fiction books that I hoped to read someday.
Lastly, in the shelf category, was two milk crates on the floor near my bedside table. This was for books I hoped to read soon.
An extra large box of books in my closets was filled with unpublished diaries.
There were 10 boxes of books in my office. I just didn’t have the room for any more shelves! One tall pile of boxes – floor to ceiling. This was overflow – fiction, non-fiction, travel, and read-and-loved books.
Used to be I never left a book sale without at least 4 or 5 books – and that would have been a slow day. Sometime over the past 5 years I managed to wean myself from buying books – unless I really Really REALLY wanted it. At first that meant that I came home from book sales with only 1 or 2 books but even that wasn’t working. Eventually I stopped myself from going to book sales. (Amazingly, my life is not lesser for the lack of book sales – I might not have believed that 10 years ago.)
Sometime around November 2010 I decided I had to get serious about getting rid of stuff and an obvious place to start would be the books. I determined I had to whittle it down by the equivalent of 10 boxes, so at least what I had would be visible on shelves.
I think it took me about 3 weeks to get 10 boxes and bring them to the used book store to return for cash – cash this time – not credit.
When you love books, it’s hard to part with favorites, or books yet unknown, forever calling “read me” “read me.” I understand this well.
But here’s the thing – I had too much stuff!
Really way WAY too much stuff – and really? What were these books adding to my life? What was I gaining? I knew that if I wanted to move forward with my life I would have to jettison some of the extraneous crap – there’s no other way. And this whole feeling of the need to get rid of stuff (a feeling present and growing for many years) was foaming forth from a general malaise about my life. It wasn’t right, things would have to change. I’d been building up to this need for major change.
So I’m sorry Paul Theroux for removing 6 of the 8 books I haven’t read yet. (I actually haven’t read any of his books yet, always meant to.) I’m sorry Ellen Gilchrist that I’m ditching 3 or 4 of your short story collections. I did love the one I read way back when. I love you Joseph Campbell but this one book that I read right after my mom died makes me sad to see. But I promise you – it helped me so very much at the time. I’m sorry all you contributors to erotica collections but I’m not feeling so sexy at the moment and I’m sure I won’t miss you if half of you just go away. I’m sorry you’re leaving Oscar Hijuelos and Saul Bellow and Gabriel Garcia Marquez but if I feel the need to read more of your books (and I hope someday I’ll feel that need) I think I’ll be able to find you easily enough. I’m sorry Katherine Mansfield but you have to go too. I never saw your brilliance like everyone assured me was there. Goodbye Midnight Express, read as a horror story and cautionary tale so many times in my early teen years that you’re falling apart. I don’t need you to prove anything. We all know I managed to avoid Turkish prison. Goodbye Stephen King, I’m sure you’ll be easy to find should I need you again. I don’t think you’re going to help me move forward. I’ll keep this early paperback version of The Stand though, and this copy of On Writing. For now…
Throughout the winter I challenged myself to get a book or two a day off the shelves. At least one. One book. I can lose one book.
That’s not always as easy as it sounds – but it’s worth it. So worth it.