As the end of the year approaches I begin to notice a desire to clean out and throw away some of the useless clutter I have around here. Not surprisingly then, this New York Times article caught my eye: Books You Can Live Without.
The Times polled several authors and the owner of a used book store for advice on how to cull out your book collection. One of the authors couldn't bear to part with anything, saying "Get rid of books? Are you kidding?" I'm with him.
There are some valid suggestions in some of the responses, though. You don't need two copies of something and you should probably cull out things that are out of date. Fred Bass, owner of a used book shop, said:
My advice is to first clean out duplicates and books with repetitive information — why do you need six dictionaries? Next, remove all books with out-of-date information, like atlases and reference books. Political, economic and topical books should be the next category to sort through; you don’t really need that copy of Richard Simmons’ “Never-Say-Diet Book” (a 1981 best-seller), or a book on the future of the Democratic or Republican parties, written 20 years ago.
So, this morning I did a quick perusal of my shelves. I find that I am guilty of seeing something I want to read, or hearing about it, purchasing it, then forgetting to read it. My copy of Dick Morris's Catastrophe has been sitting on the table since summer, and I haven't touched it. I bought it the same day I bought Michelle Malkin's Culture of Corruption, which I have long since finished. I won't get rid of it, though. I'll get to it.
I'm a sentimentalist and keep books that I loved, even though I might not read them again. One book I read over and over is Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. I also reread To Kill a Mockingbird, but since I teach that to my sophomores, I'm not sure that counts.
I have several collections I can't part with: all my Travis McGee books! An 8-volume antique set of Samuel Pepy's Diary. A two volume copy of The Life of Lincoln by Ida Tarbell that belonged to my grandparents. As an English major in college, I've filled an entire shelf with novels I had to read in school. Anthologies of English literature, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy (not a favorite), among the other expected volumes.
I will get rid of certain novels that I've read; over the holiday I bagged up all my Michael Connelly books and gave them to my brother. I loved reading them, but I won't re-read them. The Sue Grafton alphabet mysteries have been passed on as have most of the Sara Paretsky and Patricia Cornwells. Same with James Lee Burke. Loved reading them, don't want to keep them.
Billy Collins, an English professor, said of great collections of books, "And who needs such elaborate announcements of one’s literary credentials? After all, is a gentleman’s library of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves anything more than a vanity?" I see his point, but disagree. While it's probably impossible for me to re-read all the books I want to keep, that's not really the point. I might want to refer to one of them, or look something up!
But surely there is something I can get rid of. Oh wait! There's a copy of Where the Heart Is that someone gave me that I can toss. I don't think I'll ever read it. And maybe that out of date atlas...