Book weight, that is, not body weight. Our recent discussion of clutter, inspired by the super-detailed and super-creepy installation “Barbie Trashes her Dream House“, has inspired me to donate the shelves full of books I no longer read or use. I’ve just removed four boxes and large bags of books off of my shelves, and I’m just getting started. Whichever organization calls me first to ask if I have any good, re-useable household goods, books, or clothing, and offers to pick my donation up from my front door, will be the beneficiary.
I’ve lived in this house for ten years–by far, the longest place I’ve ever lived in my adult life. And I’ve bought or been given a lot of books over the past thirty years. I was wondering, aside from the household clutter angle, why now? Why get rid of the excess books now, instead of sometime during the 1990s, when I moved ten times in as many years and was always packing and moving and unpacking those damn boxes of books. It’s perverse, no?
But my theory is that it’s precisely because I have a stable home now and I’m no longer moving once or twice a year, I don’t need the old books any more. It’s like I carted around those books as though I were building walls with them, Three Little Pigs-style, in the hopes that they’d make me feel secure and keep the wolf from the door. But after ten years of not regularly culling the heard, some shelves in my living room and office were starting to look like the shelves of a crazy hoarder–you know, shelves with double-rows of books, and shelves with books files horizonally as well as vertically.
(And please–no lectures on e-readers. For most of my life as a biliophile, e-books were entirely unavailable, so I’d still be stuck with 95% of this pile of unwanted dead-tree codex even if I had a Kindle or an i-Pad now.)
Fifteen year-old travel books? Who needs ‘em! Trendy books purchased on impulse in an airport two or five or ten years ago? Buh-bye. That whole shelf of anti-George W. Bush books I bought ca. 2001-2008? You’re outta here, too. Cultural studies books that mystified me 20 years ago? Gone. Fiction I bought but never read because it bored me? Guiltlessly gone! I’m keeping only books that relate to my work, and great literary fiction. If I give away something and find I need it again (unlikely), I can get it at a library. After all, I can get nearly any book in the world delivered to my university library, after all, and then return it when I’m done. (And even non-academics can do this too–most local library systems participate in interlibrary loan services.)
So the big clean-out is part I of my resolution. Part II is a promise not to buy a single book for myself in 2012. (And it’s a leap year! ) Instead, so as to support the work of my fellow historians and other useful authors, I will agressively pepper my subject-area librarian with requests for the Baa Ram U. library shelves. Amazon and brick-and-mortar bookstores with new books aren’t my weakness. It’s the used bookstores that always yield the greatest treasures, as I’ve written here before, and will be the most difficult test of my resolve. (Maybe I’ll make exceptions for rare finds, if they’re directly germane to my work.)
Now, if only I could shovel off my desk, I might get some real work done this semester. . .any advice for me on this? In the past, my experience is that if I wait long enough for the documents and papers on the desk to become irrelevant or useless, it’s a pretty easy cleanup. (But it’s hardly efficient.)