Over the summer, I did some serious culling of my book collection.
I have always found it inordinately difficult to let go of books, any books. Generally, the best that I can manage is to relinquish the odd outdated health book or computer manual. I can easily justify hanging on even to multiple copies of the same novel. Of course, the content is the most important thing, not the physical object in which that content is embodied. But to my mind one edition is superior in one respect, and another in another, and I find myself in some way emotionally attached to a third, and on and on it goes. So there we were, my beau and I, living in a fairly big house, with anywhere from one to three large bookcases in every room, with an overflow of books stacked on every free bit of floor space threatening to squeeze us out.
Suddenly, for the first time in my life, my need for order overtook my need to hold on to every last book in my possession. I'm not sure precisely how many books I gave up in the end. The initial decision was a wrench each time, but once I made it I acted quickly to rule out any possibility of backsliding. For a couple of weeks, I walked to my neighbourhood Goodwill store every day with a large bag of books to donate in each hand. I didn't attain my ultimate goal of reducing my collection to the number of books that would fit comfortably on our multitude of shelves, but I got close. We can move about freely in every room in the house once again.
You would think that with that experience fresh in my memory I'd steer clear of book sales for a while. But no. I think of Fall as book sale season in Toronto. Every year various colleges of the University of Toronto put on a series of used book sales that begin in September and stretch through November. The minute I feel the first chill in the air, I find myself thinking eagerly of those vast tables of books which never fail to yield up at least a few fabulous, unexpected finds.
Today, I gave in to the temptation and spent a glorious couple of hours at the Victoria College Book Sale. I think that I was a tad more selective than I would have been before the grand cull. But I still came home with a fine selection of books:
Van Wyck Brooks, From a Writer’s Notebook
Andrew Field, Djuna: The Life and Times of Djuna Barnes
Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone, Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore
Daniel Halpern (ed.), Who's Writing This? Notations on the Authorial I with Self-Portraits
Roy MacSkimming, The Perilous Trade: Publishing Canada's Writers (a marvellous book which I have wanted to own ever since reading a library copy a few years back)
David Magarshack, Gogol: A Life (I've been dipping into Gogol's Collected Stories recently, and this will be a nice supplement to that reading)
W. Somerset Maugham, Points of View (containing an essay on the short story form which I plan to read immediately)
Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop (a duplicate, I confess, but I promise that one of you lovely readers will soon be the beneficiary of my folly…)
Anais Nin, The Novel of the Future (a duplicate again, but a much nicer copy than the heavily underlined and water-damaged one that currently resides on my shelf)
Terry Teachout, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (I should have bought this one new—sorry Terry!—but it completes my Teachout collection and I couldn't resist snatching it up)
The Diary of Virginia Woolf Volume I 1915-1919 (another duplicate, but a lovely hardback edition with which I am very happy to replace my yellowing paperback copy)
Virginia Woolf, The Death of the Moth (a battered 2nd edition from 1942 which I'm quite sure contains essays that are not included in any of the Woolf essay collections that I already own)
Perhaps more books than you were expecting when I claimed increased selectivity, but I swear that in other years I've come home from that sale with three times that number of books…