It's crunch time in my household: too many books, not enough space. Several bookcases are double-shelved; most have books on the very top; and even some cupboards hold books rather than food or crockery. One of these days -- no, make that pretty damn soon -- I've got to cull. One possible way is to discard a whole category: say, books in German. I took two years of the language about 30 years ago. I hoped to become proficient enough to read Goethe and Fontane, Kafka and Grass, in the original, but that hasn't happened. It's not nothing to have a nodding acquaintance with a language, as I do with German, but why hang on to a couple of dozen books that I will probably never master the skills to get through? I guess I'm reluctant to cop to that "never"; it's not out of the question that, if I still have the marbles for it, I will go back to German after retiring. And I'm not sure I want to all but foreclose the possibility-- which is, of course, a bit of rationalization on behalf of something I simply like doing: surrounding myself with good books.
Since I suspect that similar objections would materialize for any other category on the shelves, I'm left with the other route: going through my library one book at a time, scanning each title, pulling out the ones that no longer clutch me by the lapel and say, "Hang on to me." This is labor-intensive, but that's all right because each book in my possession has a story behind it: a gift from somebody I can think about; or a selection of the book group I used to belong to; or a throwback to a period when I was intensely interested in a certain author (Julian Green, for example, the son of parents from the American South who moved to France, where their son grew up bilingual and wrote several novels set in the "old" country from which he was an expatriate); or background about a place I've been but to which I will probably not return (my one trip to Malaysia, for example, will last me the rest of my days). Each title that I exile from my realm will cost me a pang (I donate them to the Stone Ridge book sale), but I've got to make the effort. The alternative -- floundering in books like a hoarder whose residence gets so choked with old stuff that it becomes hazardous -- is looking more and more untenable.
-- Dennis Drabelle
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