by Sandra Parshall
Books on tables.
Books piled in front of other books on shelves. On virtually every shelf.
Boxes of books stacked in corners.
Books on chairs, books on the floor.
I am drowning in books, and if I hope to ever have room for... well, more books... I have to get rid of some of these tomes that currently overwhelm me.
Rather than grabbing an armful at a time and tossing them into boxes, which might precipitate a total psychological breakdown, I thought a careful pruning, a selective weeding out of unwanted volumes would be painless. And maybe it would be, if I knew the meaning of "unwanted" in connection with books. I would like to keep all of them and perhaps build new additions to the house when we run out of space.
But I must be realistic. The selection process must begin.
Every room except one in our house has bookshelves, so I have a big job. I can, at least, ignore the books in my husband’s study, which are entirely his problem. Instead of going at the rest from a negative starting point – What can I toss? – I will first mark as off-limits the books that must stay, the ones that have earned a permanent home in the Parshall manse.
First, my reference collection, all my books on crime and crime-solving, are staying put. I’ll hang onto my how-to writing books, because every time I finish writing a novel I forget how to do it and become convinced I’ll never do it again. I wouldn’t part with Donald Maass’s inspiring Fire in Fiction, in particular.
|Living room nonfiction shelves|
especially those about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe, the kings and queens of England, the Borgias, the Tudors, et al. You would be amazed how often I look things up in them (such as when I want to refresh my memory of the facts after some TV drama has presented a fanciful version). I’m also reluctant to dispose of any biographies, even if I doubt I’ll ever open them again. I may doubt it, but I can’t know for sure, so best hold onto them. Again, online is no substitute. In any case, the nonfiction shelves in the living room, at least, always look reasonably tidy, probably because the bulk of our history and biography volumes are in my husband's study.
Poetry collections, books on literature – they stay.
And now we’ve arrived at the crux of my book population problem: fiction. Realistically, how many of these novels will I ever read again, or even dip into? I can name some with certainty: all of Isak Dinesen’s Gothic tales (as well as her marvelous memoirs of Africa); all of Flannery O’Connor; all of Carson McCullers; several of Thomas H. Cook’s novels, which refresh my pleasure in the crafting of evocative prose; and my old, worn hardcover copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
|Living room fiction shelves after a major purge|
I also won’t part with any Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine novels, or my copy of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, and a few other works of crime fiction that soar above the ordinary. I love Louise Erdrich and Edna O’Brien too much to let go of anything of theirs. I used to feel that way about a few other writers, particularly southern authors, but those bonds have loosened and I haven’t glanced at their old work or read their new in years.
What you see in these pictures is a fraction of the books in our house. The worst problem is in my study, where I write and where the majority of books coming into the house end up. The bookcase at the top of this blog is one of several in my study. The picture is a tight shot because just beyond the camera's range is a mess of such proportions that I'm ashamed to let you see it. The other shelves in the room are equally crowded, and I have boxes of books and stacks of books that haven't found space on shelves. I have books in the closet and books on the floor. My study is a disaster area, but FEMA is busy elsewhere just now, and responsibility for the cleanup is mine alone.
Will I make serious progress in purging this overgrown collection? Or will I stop the minute I’ve cleared just enough space to get all the loose books neatly lined up on the shelves (without so much as an inch left for the next new book that makes it through the door)? Anybody want to lay bets, or this one too easy to call?
When was the last time you cleaned out your book collection? Have you ever tossed something you later wished you’d kept?