This isn’t an easy post to write. Every aspect of it goes against my better nature – and my worst nature too.
It concerns an action that I’m not proud of, one that I will never repeat, a deed which has left me sick to the stomach, questioning my core values and reassessing my life’s direction.
I’ve purged my library.
It was my own decision, taken in a sober frame of mind and without coercion. And it was cold-blooded.
Over the years family and the odd (very odd – who suggest someone throw out books?) friend had advised me to do this. I ignored them of course. And the books continued to pile up.
Shelves had long since overflowed. Piles of paperbacks filled the bottoms of wardrobes and sprouted from the corners of bedrooms. When tripping over them became too much a simple solution presented itself: stuff the lot into empty suitcases. Which was fine, until it came time for a trip.
No part of me wishes I lived in a large mansion. In fact I’ve never lived in a house big enough to accommodate a library or even a small study. But sometimes it’s occurred to me that the only upshot of Jay Gatsby’s quiet desperation was the spare room at the West Egg mansion where he could ditch his unread books.
Empty shelves. ‘Man Reading at Lamplight’, George Friedrich Kersting (1814)
After years of procrastinating, dodging requests from my better half, and generally burying my head in the sand (or in a newly acquired Penguin Classic) circumstances conspired to force me to face the inevitable.
And so, armed with a pile of cardboard boxes, tape and a sense of dread responsibility I started into the task – onerous but now unavoidable – of separating the ‘must keeps’ from the ‘must keep but this is cold reality’.
The keeper books needed no attention, they were going nowhere. But the others, each one assessed and re-assessed, maybe’d and if only’d, now stand in a series of small paper towers on the living room floor.
I can barely bring myself to look at them, including – as they do – books bought 30 years and a lifetime ago. Some were read and forgotten, some half read. others just held once every couple of years.
Adieu then to Don DeLillo’s magnum opus Underworld, the second copy I’ve owned and lost, with the plaintive image of the Twin Towers on the cover.
Farewell to Nietzsche‘s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, half-read, the product of a brief dalliance with existentialism.
Goodbye to William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, read as I dipped a toe into the world of steampunk.
These, and dozens more, are about to go. A friend’s offered to re-home some but most will be donated. At least someone else will, hopefully, read them – after our poignant parting I’m not sure I ever will.
And if this wasn’t heartbreaking enough worse lies around the corner – the opposite corner of the same room to be exact, where hundreds of CDs sit taking up space, unused, awaiting the purge.