Quite some time ago I wrote a post about the need to instigate a book cull. I was perfectly prepared to live in a house where I could hardly move for piles of books in unexpected places but, when it came to having to up my car insurance because I could no longer get my tiny little Peugeot into a reasonably large garage, I decided that something had to be done. I asked for help.
Well, many of you responded, most often with suggestions as to where I might take the books that were going to have to go. Unfortunately, that was really no problem. I have a plethora of charity shops locally, some of whom are even willing to take the academic books that I no longer need. No, the real problem was sorting out which books to keep and which to send out into the world seeking new owners. How do you cut once treasured volumes adrift and tell them to go and find another home?
So, I did what any self-respecting bibliophile would do – I prevaricated. Have I ever told you that I am a world-class prevaricator? No? Well now I have. However, (un)fortunately for me, I live with several very decisive Bears who were simply no longer willing to tolerate the risk of being flattened by a toppling pile of books. Entreaties were made. And, when they didn’t work, threats were uttered!
Eventually, I had to give in, and although I think there is still some work to be done in the garage (I am never going to lecture in Children’s Literature again, but I do love reading about it) the house side of things is now a little less hazardous for all concerned.
My first act was to separate everything out into fiction and non-fiction. Surprisingly, the fiction was easier to manage. To start with, two piles – those that I had read and those that I hadn’t. The second pile was definitely larger than the first. Like so many bibliophiles I buy far more books than I can ever hope to read. My doctoral supervisor (a man with even worse hoarding problems than my own) once said to me that the day he came to terms with his own mortality was the day he realised that he had more unread books on his shelves than he could possibly get through in his remaining life time even if he were to never do anything other than read for the rest of his days.
Some of the books in that unread pile were definitely mistakes. I have no idea why I bought them in the first place. Perhaps I felt that I couldn’t possibly come out of whichever shop I was in without first buying something. As the daughter of a small shop owner, that is actually quite likely. They went straight into the charity shop box. The rest, probably about two hundred (I didn’t dare count) went back on the shelves.
The ones I’d read went into three piles: those that I couldn’t part with at any price, those that I knew I could live without and around half a dozen about which I couldn’t decide. At some point I am going to have to read that last group again and pass a final judgement – in or out.
Two shelves for the first group, more boxes for the second and an out of the way corner for the third.
The non-fiction collection, which is as extensive as the fiction, has given me far more problems. Broadly speaking , it can be divided into four sections: Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, letters and journals, essays and poetry. I’m still teaching Shakespeare studies and, as there are around twenty plays I have yet to cover, this collection is only going to go on growing. In fact, it’s been the expansion in this area that has prompted the need to cull in the first place.
The letters and journals and essays are all either literary or theatrical in subject matter and while I have read most of them they are the sort of book that I repeatedly dip into for intellectual and spiritual refreshment. On very sober reflection I decided that there were in fact three writers who had begun to irritate rather than invigorate. Fortunately, they were amongst the more prolific and so I was able to consign well over a dozen volumes into the rapidly filling cardboard boxes.
The poetry was another matter. I know that I don’t read enough poetry but when it came to trying to move any of it on it proved to be completely impossible. It would have been like trying to excise music from my life. I am still puzzling over this and meantime the poetry volumes remain firmly on their shelf.
All told, I think I have probably reduced my library by about a third and Shakespeare apart (Love’s Labour’s Lost is just making an appearance in various different editions) I have been reasonably good about what I’ve bought. Only books that I’ve borrowed from the library and then found that I need to add to those shelves holding books I simply can’t part with have found their way in. How long this state of affairs will persist is another matter entirely.