I decided to cull my books recently.
Anyone with a sizable library will understand when I tell you that going through 1,000 books is no fast and easy task. But I had dedicated a day to cleaning my basement, and books occupy 25% or more of my storage space, so it was a necessary first step. Surely, I thought, surely among 1,000 books, I can find a good sized pile to eliminate.
After all, what is the point in owning that many printed volumes? If I were willing to quit my job, ignore my family and churn through one each day, I could re-read them all in just under three years. By then, I would have enough new books to make it an even three years. But it’s actually more likely to be less than one per week, which turns a full re-read into more of a 20-year plan.
I start with some boxes of miscellaneous titles we had brought downstairs with absolutely no labeling or organization. Childhood favorites mingle with classics and college literature, fiction and nonfiction, in a delicious cardboard pot of joy. Just look at all these great books! Gazing down into the open boxes, I am struck by the need to quit my job and begin reading these tokens of pure awesomeness that I’ve collected basically since childhood. Who could get rid of The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden? John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me? Call of the Wild by Jack London?
These go into the growing “keep” pile.
For hours, I organize and sort. After what seems like an eternity bending over boxes, reminiscing about my first read of Isaac Asimov and crying over Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes), I’ve managed to activate an old back injury. Still, there’s almost nothing in the Pile that Shall Not be Named, other than my husband’s college textbooks and one book for which I somehow have a duplicate.
How can it be so frickin’ hard? I wonder. I double down, scrutinizing every title, demanding a justification to keep it.
And do you know what happens? I start to wonder about the missing titles. For instance, where is Jungle travel & Survival by Jack Walden? I’m probably beyond jungle travel at this point in my life, but I loved that book! And what ever happened to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien? Did I lend them? Did I go temporarily insane and cull the wrong books a few years back?
OH NO, did someone STEAL my books?
The ordeal leaves me in pain, barely able to pull myself back upstairs with the stack of new reading I’ve collected, convinced that I cannot rationalize the idea of culling any books. These ruined trees – bound on the edges and printed with indelible ink – own me as much as I own them.
Admitting failure, I instead concoct a face-saving raft of excuses to keep all of them (except perhaps the duplicate).
I can lend them to friends and family.
My teenage daughter can read them all. Maybe some of the classics will still be required reading when she’s in high school.
If I’m taking a bath and my reading material accidentally dips below the waterline, I can blow it dry and it will still be readable. (Let’s see you do that with a phone or e-reader!)
If I accidentally leave a stack in a public restroom – which I did once, while visiting a friend in the hospital – the cost to purchase new copies is relatively low.
Amazon cannot take it away from me, not even if the author commits fraud or whatever. I actually OWN it!
Some less likely, but still marginally compelling, scenarios include being trapped in the basement after a natural disaster, or being barricaded down there during the much-anticipated zombie apocalypse.
Imagine me in an igloo of boxes, surrounded by my family and pets, snuggled down in my favorite TV blanket. Hunched over an old candle, I’ll spend my days re-living RA Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden saga, bawling over The One and Only Ivan (Karen McRae), and having a good chuckle as I re-read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams).
Dry ramen, bottled water, family and books. Bring it on.
Long after my digital devices have died and the zombies bust through my barricade – or the rescuers pull us from the rubble of our collapsed home – these books shall survive.
As they should.
I’m not too proud to admit defeat.