But post-reorganization, for the first time in my life, all of my books are out of storage and on display. I’d like to keep it this way, yet the likelihood of my book collection ceasing to grow at this point is nil. Clearly, I’m going to have to buck up and come up with criteria that I can live with for the occasional culling of my collection.
I’ve found some inspiration in Lewis Buzbee’s The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Here’s a man who is as nuts about books as I am; more so if that’s possible. Yet he’s managed to come to terms with the need to let go of once-cherished volumes along the way:
As a bookseller and a rep, I’ve had many more thousands of books in my possession than my shelves at home would indicate. At one time, I tried to keep them all, but that quest soon became impossible; I now only keep the ones I’m sure I’m going to reread, the ones I’m definitely going to read before I die, and the ones I can’t bear to part with because of an aesthetic or emotional attachment.
This strikes me as a plausible blueprint for deciding which books stay and which go. The first category, the ones I’m sure I’m going to reread, is fairly easy to determine. I can see myself running into a bit of trouble with the second category though as I realize that I’m wildly over-optimistic about the number of books I’m capable of reading in my lifetime. And the third, well, my emotional attachment to many of my books runs deep, particularly the childhood favourites. I’m glad that Buzbee gives weight to emotional and aesthetic attachment though; it’s a nice change from the television organization gurus who lose me every time they force a tearful packrat to winnow his or her book collection down to a shelf or two.
Buzbee is also inspiring when he writes about the fate of the books he relinquishes, the majority of which are destined for used-book stores:
For me, one of the great things about selling my books is that I know the ones I’ve sold can now begin an entire new existence. No longer relegated to my shelf or worse, a box in the garage, these books can go to a new home, possibly staying forever, possibly being traded in once again.
“Used bookstores,” he concludes, “represent recycling at its best, a powerful and useful endeavor that’s important to both our cultural and material lives.”
One of the reasons that I find it so difficult to get rid of books is the spectre of them languishing in landfill. The idea of sending them back into circulation instead is very appealing to me. I know that no one else wants those outdated computer manuals and exercise books that I’ve consigned to the cardboard box. But there are some other fine books in my collection that I could bear to donate to Goodwill in the hope that they’ll wind up in the hands of another happy reader. Giving away books and throwing away books are two entirely different matters.