Friday, September 30, 2011

Too Many Books

by Sheila Connolly

Oh, no, you say—not again! You've heard it all before, right? Well, the problem hasn't gone away, and the last couple of weeks have introduced yet more complications.

Let's start with the Bouchercon conference, now a rapidly receding memory—except for the stacks of books. If you've never attending a writers conference, you may not know that when you walk in you are handed a badge and a bag full of books. Yes, a whole bag. These are contributed by publishers seeking to promote lesser known authors, but the bag often includes recent books by mainstream authors. Even Big Name authors: my bag this year included books by Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. It also included books by several people I had never heard of, but that's the whole point of promotion, isn't it?

I couldn't part with any of them. Usually at such conferences there is a place to leave or swap books, and this year was no exception. The problem was, I ended up taking more than I left. The sad thing is, at most of these swap tables there is usually one book that a great number of people abandon from their freebie bags. Can you imagine how bad the poor author must feel seeing stacks of his gift books sitting there, rejected? I couldn't bring myself to dump it, even though it was heavy. Of course, now that I've hauled it home, I have to read it.

And if the gift bag didn't provide enough books, there are people who will thrust books upon you, in hallways, at parties. How can you say no? The (usually unknown) author is standing in front of you, his (or her) precious work outstretched—what are you going to say? I hate the cover? I've never heard of you, now go away? I was raised to be polite, so I take the book. It may be a wonderful book, but I haven't read it yet. I haven't read the one I got that way last year, from two Scandinavian authors who were all but flinging their first book at everyone who walked by them. But I still have it.

For the first time, this year I mailed a box of books back after the conference. It cost about as much as the excess weight fee on my suitcase would have, and I didn't have to lug another twenty pounds of books through airports. A bargain all around.

But that's only part of the rampant book problem. I'm reading broadly for my forthcoming Irish series, and the first book in the series in due to my editor in a few months. I've been doing research on Ireland, mainly genealogy, for a decade now, and I've collected quite a few books, including classic references on Irish history, the Famine, etc. Many of those will give me a few hundred years of history, but not what's going on there now. For that I need recent histories, and books by current authors. Given that Ireland has been going through rapid and extreme upheavals over the past decade, I have to look critically at the source and the date of any book I pick up now, if I want to catch a glimpse of the Celtic Tiger and the devastation it left in its wake.

A perfect example:  the description of the Celtic Tiger,
and the description of its demise
Plus I'm throwing a young and not overeducated young American woman into the mix, and she has her own perspective from growing up in the heavily Irish communities south of Boston. I'm looking forward to the clash of cultures. But I want to get it right, which means more reading. I don't know if I'm glad or sorry that Whitey Bulger has finally been caught: he provided some great mythology about Southie, and there was even a theory that he was hiding somewhere in West Cork, which is where my series is set. So there's another problem: if I'd written this a year ago, I would look foolish. Who knows—by the time this book hits the shelves, Ireland could have come roaring back to fiscal health, or equally likely, it and several other European Union countries could have declared bankruptcy and trashed the global economy. How do I handle that?

And if that weren't enough, a well-meaning friend sent me a link to a site which offers free ebooks on Irish history and family records. The list is sixteen pages long, in teeny print. There is no way I have time to read even a smattering of them. The TBR pile of print books about Ireland is already three feet high and teetering.

So how do I cope with this avalanche? I have already acknowledged to myself that it is almost physically painful to give away or refuse any book. I mean, it's a book! I can't do it! And yet, I'm surrounded with stacks of books, for research or written by friends or much praised by critics, that I want to read. And there simply isn't enough time to do it all.

Alas, not my library, but I can dream (it's the Trinity College Library
in Dublin)


Sandra Parshall said...

I share your pain. :-) It's especially hard to let go of -- or to stop accumulating -- books for research. How can we be sure we'll never need them?

But when you realize you're walking through narrow passages between ceiling-high stacks of books, you'll know you need to get help.

JJM said...

Love the essay. I definitely like the way you manage to hide the fact that your current research project is simply an excuse to collect even more books ... [laughter] Been there.

Seriously, I feel your pain. I've now schlepped over 50 file-boxes full of books to storage, with more packed and ready to go; with any luck, that'll be at least 1/3 of my library. And that's not counting the research collection, which is not going into storage, nor are the 19th-century-and-earlier books.

My "To Be Read" shelves now span two book cases, double-filed, with stacks on top. Half my sofa is stacks of books (that's where I do my cataloguing; I need inventory control -- and, besides, cataloguing is what I do for a living).

Any book that I suspect will be "beach reading", I'll get on the Kindle -- and now there are some 400 e-books on it.

Biblioholism is a sickness. [sigh]

Julia Buckley said...

That last picture is amazing! I wonder how many of those books actually get taken off the shelves.

fahrenheit451moderator said...

Re: Trinity College Library
We had just visited the campus to see the Book of Kells -- a wonder in itself -- when we stepped into that beautiful library. That unexpected moment was the best part of our trip. Trinity College students are allowed to use the books, wearing gloves and with an attendant with them. They are not circulated.

Anonymous said...

Pretty section of content. I just stumbled upon your website
and in accession capital to assert that I acquire in fact enjoyed account your blog posts.
Any way I'll be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement you access consistently quickly.
Also see my website - canada goose online

Anonymous said...

You really make it appear so easy along with your
presentation but I find this matter to be actually something which I feel
I'd by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely broad for me. I am having a look ahead for your next post, I'll try to get the dangle of it!
Also visit my web page van nelle tabak

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Idaho! I'm bored at work so I decided to check out your site on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the knowledge you present here and can't wait to take a look when I get home.
I'm surprised at how fast your blog loaded on my mobile .. I'm not even using WIFI, just 3G .
. Anyways, wonderful site!
My blog post : borkum riff

Anonymous said...

Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up and also the rest of the site is also very good.
Take a look at my blog ... amber leaf

Anonymous said...

If you would like to improve your know-how just keep visiting this web page and be updated with the most
up-to-date news update posted here.
Look into my web-site old holborn tabak

Anonymous said...

Hello there! I know this is kinda off topic however , I'd figured I'd ask.
Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa?
My blog discusses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other.
If you're interested feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!
Also see my web page > drum tobacco