by Lou Borgenicht
Rearranging or giving away books is an emotional experience. In the interest of simplifying my life I decided it was time to peruse my personal library with the objective of thinning things out. My books had spilled out of the shelves onto the floor.
Over the past year I had prided myself on limiting the accretion of my wardrobe by giving away any item I bought: if I purchased a shirt an old one would have to go. I also got rid of pants that did not fit anymore, having given up the fantasy that they could be suitably altered to fit my changing body. But as a friend pointed out, merely replacing items in a wardrobe does nothing to decrease one’s vestments.
Books, however, are a different matter. One of the motivations for dealing with one’s personal library is feng shui, the popular Japanese approach to simplifying life. In her book The Life Changing Habit of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo devotes only three pages (93-95) to clearing her bookshelves.
Be that as it may, a recent survey of my office shelves was a bit tortured. There were books I no longer desired: either because I had read them and knew I would never want to read them again or because there were books I knew I would never read.
More problematic were those I hoped to read someday. These were fraught with guilt: I had bought them years ago but had not gotten around to reading them. I could not part with them lest I feel foolish feeling that I had given into a literary whim in the past and not had the wherewithal to read them.
More facile was the decision about which there was no doubt: I had to keep them because they were some of my favorites (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Sophie’s Choice, Hiroshima, A Sacred Trust, Catcher in the Rye, Executioner’s Song, any Billy Collins poetry). Over the years I had bought new editions of these volumes just so I had virginal copies on my shelves. They’ve remained staples in my library.
There were those I wanted to get rid of but could not because they had authorial inscriptions, some of them even from friends. I considered tearing out the inscription page and passing them on but something made me stop. Thus books by Sy Hersh (a cousin by marriage) remain in the recesses of an inaccessible shelf.
Untouchable is my collection of books on the nuclear arms race gathered in the 80’s when I was active in the physicians’ antinuclear movement. They are willed to a nuclear library at the University Utah upon my death.
There are probably more books I can dispose of but I consider it an ongoing process to be resumed when the spirit strikes me. Meanwhile I continue reading assiduously and confronting the dilemma of what to do with the book when I have finished it.