Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Great links: "Cull of the Wild"

On August 1, The Washington Post published an piece with the online headline: "Readers have many opinions on how to cull your book collection — and also why you never should." It begins: "When the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the United States earlier this year, forcing Americans to shelter in place, many suddenly realized just how cramped their homes were. It was now impossible to ignore the sheer amount of stuff we had, bursting from dressers and desk drawers, closets and bookcases."

For sure, having too much stuff is a First World Problem. Complaining about it is a sure sign of privilege amid a pandemic. There are too many with too little. We're going to be OK if the dresser drawer doesn't shut tight.

But too many books? That's just some nonsense right there. The Washington Post article details some who are aggressively pruning, culling, dismantling their home libraries. Hearteningly, it also includes the voices of those who advocate keeping their books, thank you very much.

“It is a fallacy of the ‘Kondo World’ that we need to get rid of our books," writes LadyManx. "Our leaders do not read. Look what that has gotten us. While it is fine to move so-so books along, books love us and whisper their thoughts to us, as we pass their covers. Can an ereader do that? Trying to find a favorite phrase or vignette in an ebook is a time-wasting fraud. My real books fall open to what I need. A book bought a long while ago will not call to me till years later and I’ll wonder how I knew to have it for just such a moment.

I also had some deep thoughts and empathy reading the comments section of the short article, in which some wonder about the endgame of their lifetime of bibliophilia:

  • "I have been saving my books since the mid 80s and have more than 2,000. I wish I could find someone or an organization that wants them."
  • "I recently realized I have more books on my TBR shelf and my Kindle than I have time left in my life to read them all, and my heirs have no desire to inherit my collection. I've called a moratorium on buying new books, and I'm suffering withdrawal pains. It takes all of my willpower to not browse used book sites; I love to read and I love a bargain. But life is shorter than I thought."
  • "With several downsizing moves in my past, I've given away hundreds of books. My strategy for feeling joy rather than loss is to spend an inordinate amount of time finding the right home for the right books."
  • "Having dealt with the frightening amount 'stuff' my parents left after they died (including a shoe repair receipt from 1958!), I vowed never to 'bequeath' the same to my descendants. I keep some relevant reference books and immediately, if possible, give away the fiction when finished. I don't want my family spending inordinate amounts time dealing with objects I could not be bothered to make a decision about when, instead, they could be reading a good book!"
  • "I love every single one of my many books, some inform me, others have memories attached to them and some bring me joy. I will never get rid of my books and when I see people walking down the street unaware of their surroundings because they are looking at their phones I am glad that will never be me. I pay attention to the world, to nature, to the people walking around me. The only time I get lost in another place is when I am with my books. My collection is permanent, I will never cull it, it is a part of me."
  • "Keep your books, let someone else worry about 'culling.'"
  • Before you clear out a deceased relative's book collection ... be sure to thumb through the pages. People of a certain generation made it a habit to conceal things in the pages of books. Currency, old stock certificates, and letters come to mind.

Finally, I love everything about this long note that Sandy Lawrence left in the Washington Post article's comments section:
"I am in the 'brimming bookshelves' in every room category.

"A few months ago, on a whim, I purchased 5 old school readers on ebay that were published in the early 1900s. When they arrived, I discovered that each of the books were filled with drawings and writings and had the name and town of the child who had originally owned it. I spent a few happy hours on ancestry tracking down what the rest of those children's lives had looked like.

"Based on their dates of death and how the seller came by the books, it was obvious that each of those 5 people had felt their school book had had enough personal meaning that they'd held on to them for the rest of their lives.

"This prompted me to look through my own brimming bookcases and pull out a small stack of about 50 books that had real personal meaning to me because I'd read them at a specific time in my life or because I'd found something in the words that had resonated and changed my perspective on life.

"However, I realized that no one will know that when I am gone. So, I have started writing short notes that I place in each of the books explaining why these were important books to me. My hope is that when I'm gone this will help my children decide which books to keep (and hopefully, to read). Call it a guide to mom's life through her books.

"As for the others, it will be easier now (I think) to rehome many of them. All books are wonderful, but only some are personal. I can finally let go of the ones that aren't personal and don't have real meaning to me, and that is a relief."

But wait, there's more
I've mentioned it before, but Roger Ebert's 2009 essay "Books do furnish a life" is an enjoyable short read.

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