Feed on

The Purge

Once upon a time, Matt and I used to read. Actually, Matt still does and I do sometimes, but neither of us is plowing through serious novels and important non-fiction like we used to. Also once upon a time, Matt and I were averse to the library. A weekend night frequently ended up in a one- or two-hour browsing session at the local book shop, followed by a $50+ (echem, or $100+) trip to the cash register.

We kept everything we bought, too. Everything. Our bedrooms had bookshelves in them. Our living room featured bookshelves. The back-drop of our dining room? Uh huh, book-cases. Some books were kept because we loved them and revisited them like old friends. That would be the Tolkien and Camus (Matt) and Smiley and Sayers (me). Some books were kept because we just knew that one day we’d get around to reading and/or finishing. Think Infinite Jest or The Shipping News. Then there were the books that were put on display as a public declaration of our intelligence.  “Damn right,” those books proclaimed, “we are deep-thinking intellectuals. Repect!”  Think anything translated from the Russian, anything written in Middle English, and most of my philosophy and poetry collection.

When we moved back to Louisville, we were somewhat startled to discover that our books had exceeded our storage capacity. The placement of windows and walls in our house did not allow us to add much more book capacity. We have small cases in the living room, one in Matt’s office, one in Simon’s room, one in the guest bedroom, and three downstairs. That’s it. We’ve got books double and triple stacked everywhere, shelves straining and bowing in the cheap cases we bought in our salad days, and a general book storage crisis. What’s more, much of our collection is getting yellow around the edges. Some of the oldest books are slightly curled and musty, too. In a library, musty smells and yellowed pages add to the romance and charm. In our house, however, they just add to allergen load.

So they are going. Matt is the one who made the initial declaration upon discovering that our downstairs cases had sustained some water damage. As I hate clutter and he’s a Howard Hughes in the making, this excited me. We were going to tidy up! We went down for the first round a few nights ago and established three stacks: Keep, Donate, Recycle. After an hour or so of work, I looked over to see that Matt’s keepers stack was about 20% of his entire collection. My own keepers stack was closer to 60%. Maybe even 70%.

It would seem that, as is typical for us, I’ve been decrying our need to “clean up” our cases for years, but can only take tiny steps in that direction. Matt, meanwhile, who has to be bullied to throw anything away and never gets around to this type of organization, is on a mission. Once he makes up his mind (and it might take years), he goes all out, and he has planned the Great Book Purge of 2014. His goal? Not replace either of our two damaged downstairs cases.

Wow. On the one hand, it’s ridiculously hard for me to get rid of books, even if I know I’ll (likely) never read them again. Books are my security blanket. On the other hand, I will never, ever, EVER, win an argument about clutter and housekeeping if Matt purges his shelves while I barely make a dent in mine. My credibility will be shot!

Still, I ask myself: What if I finally get around to that Doris Lessing book I’ve been thinking about reading for 20 years? What if I suddenly decide I need to re-read the biography of John Donne? What if I someone asks me about The Great Chain of Being or a Bronze Age piece of art and I’ve tossed the reference? What if I need to brush up on my reading German?

In writing this, I realize that real question swirling in my head is “What if getting rid of so many books makes me become—or look—really, really stupid?”

Just typing that is like giving myself a good shake. Now I’m asking myself another question: What if one day Simon needs to help his aging parents move to Del Boca Vista Phase III and suffers from muscle strain and an asthma attack as a result of dealing with a metric ton of rotting books his parents couldn’t part with due to nostalgia, mental illness, and ego? Plus, can’t we get most anything on our e-readers if the event of a John Donne or ancient art historical emergency? Yes we can! So they’re going.

Here’s the criteria for keeping a book: Must be essential reference, a beloved book I re-read and/or lend, or something that changed how I think. Chicago Manual of Style; the collected works of Herriott, Sayers, Smiley, Ecco, Ishiguro, and Ondaatje; and select Joyce stays. Elizabeth George, most of my other mysteries, outdated ancient histories, of-the-moment (5-20 years ago) political science books, all but one Krakauer, good novels I never much liked, and light fiction I bought for plane rides are going once, going twice, gone to the book sale at Locust Grove.

Here’s the end goal: A little more space and breathing room. A lot less clutter. And no must.

Wish me luck!

One Response to “The Purge”

  1. Amanda says:

    Luck! I heartily endorse the public library. I read things there first; if I love a book enough to read it again, then I buy it.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.