Saturday, February 3, 2024

Resimplify Me, Chapter 1

I enjoy being surrounded by interesting things, but I need to be surrounded by far fewer interesting things. Too much stuff — too many options — is often paralyzing and stressful. I have more physical media than I will ever get around to in the time I have left. So I am officially embarking upon a long-term project I call Resimplify Me. A good place to start is books, because they are bulky and I have plenty to spare. Realistically, there are only so many 400-page tomes I’m going to read moving forward.

This is going to be a long project. The only place to start is one shelf (or drawer, or box) at a time. On this sunny Saturday morning, I'm beginning on a bookshelf. (Actually, it ended up being two bookshelves.) Shown above is top shelf of the far-right bookcase along my bedroom wall. 

These are my notes from along the way...

1. The top two shelves on this bookcase are world nonfiction. To get to them on the stepladder, I brushed past and jingled the bells that used to hang from the front door of the house on Oak Crest Lane. They're hanging from my bedroom ceiling now. 

2. Sitting atop the book case is the state of Delaware's detailed 1967 plan for responding to a nuclear attack, which I blogged about 12 years ago. I have no idea what to do with it.

3. As I go through this process, bigger books receive greater scrutiny and have a higher bar for surviving the winnowing. One of these thicker books, 2018's The Adventures of Owen Hatherley in the Post-Soviet Space, already seems a bit outdated in this time of the Russia-Ukraine war. Old Soviet ways aren't so old, perhaps. Tim Judah's In Wartime seems to be the more relevant book.

4. I'm expanding today's mini-project a little bit. My aim is now to winnow these top two shelves down to one shelf. Here's the second shelf.

5. As I assess them, there are some easy decisions for pruning. Some of these books veer way too far into an overambitious and overaspirational idea of my finite future reading time. Also, many of these are easily obtainable from a public library if I ever change my mind. So, my philosophy is that I'm keeping certain books that are older, rarer and less likely to be in the public library sytem.

6. Early on, it feels like today's project is going to be a failure: There’s no way I’m going to get these two shelves condensed to one shelf, or even close to one shelf. I love books, ideas and the idea of books. These history books are all meaningful. They are important.

7. 1491, America in 1492, and 1493 all have to go if there's any hope of reaching today's resimplifying goal. All are easily obtained at the library. Browsing America in 1492, I flip to this sentence “Local autonomy in implementing the mit’a labor tax was one of the special characteristics of the system that enhanced its efficiency and flexibility.” I am reassured that I am not going to read 443 pages of this. 

8. I no longer want to read about why Ivan is Terrible, but I am keeping both books about the Trans-Siberian Railway. (I thought I blogged about Kuranov's book, but I guess not.)

9. I have to flip through the books that are being pruned to check for Tucked Away Inside items. Most will be removed and transferred to other volumes. I might leave a select few as easter eggs for future readers.

10. I will cheat and put some of these books elsewhere. Specifically I’m thinking about the vintage tourism guides, such as Romania. Yes, I’m just kicking the can down the road, but it's part of the sorting process.

11. As for what does get pruned, I will try to sell some at Bookmans. (So I can buy more books? Yikes!) I will put some into Little Free Libraries and give the rest to Goodwill. I don't have the energy for Facebook Marketplace, and I’m not at the "sell stuff on eBay" stage of Resimplify Me yet, though that will necessarily come.

Snugs was "helping" and playing with a spring while I pruned.

12. Syrian Yankee is in beautiful shape and it’s signed by the author. Checking on AbeBooks, however, it simply doesn’t have much value. Author Salom Rizk seems to have signed a lot of them. I’m going to take it off the shelf, but decide later about its best new home. These are the kind of mid-century books that were so prevalent on my great-grandfather’s and grandmother’s bookshelves at Oak Crest Lane, and I have a nostalgic weakness for recreating that kind of experience, even while knowing it’s unlikely that there will be future young explorers of my shelves.

13. I’m not a big fan of oversize books, but Riddles of the Sphinx survives this pruning.

14. Why do so many of these books dwell on taxation?

15. I'm cheating again and putting The Land and People of Czechoslovakia with the other old textbooks. So there.

16. Now I need to make some tough decisions about the Native American section and the oddly large Scandinavian section. 

17. Another cheat I’ve deployed over the years: I’m going to leave Simon Winchester’s The River at the Center of the World out on the bedstand to read (and prune thereafter). Minutes, later, I decided to do this with The Almost Nearly Perfect Peopletoo. I found this card tucked away inside that book, and it seemed like exactly the encouragement I need for this ongoing project.

18. I shudder as I realize that I have some unshelved piles of books at the moment. What if I do all this work to make everything fit and then come across another nonfiction book that belongs on this shelf?  

19. Getting very close now. Close enough that I may cut myself some slack and not prune things that I’m unsure about. Also, I have other nonfiction sections that some of these books can fold into. 

20. OK, I’m finished. There was a significant amount of “cheating” and I didn’t get to just one shelf, but I’m very satisfied with the number of books that were pruned (about 18). Looking at what remains, it’s very clear that I have favored stories of people over academic tomes.

21. Only about three dozen shelves to go! (Gulp.)

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