Monday, September 06, 2010

What 788 books looks like...

Operation: Top 50% is still in full swing, even though I haven't updated in the past few days. I finished my kitchen (pics forthcoming) and am absolutely loving it.
My books, however, are a different story entirely. Here are my 788 books:

It doesn't seem like it would be hard to get rid of half of that mess. Considering that I culled about six boxes of books about 2 years ago and never even missed them--or noticed the difference on my shelves--I should be entering this phase of Operation: Top 50% with confidence and hope.

I'm not. I've gone to the shelves no fewer than 6 times, pulled a book off the shelf, gotten a tight feeling in my stomach, and put it back. This is going to be harder than it seems.

First, I have to let go of far more than just the physical books. I have to let go of the part of myself that really wants to be a high-brow reader. I'm an educated, intelligent woman, teacher, and writer. I should want to love Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, and a whole host of other writers that I've learned by hanging out with other writers are writers I should be loving. (Read it again, it makes sense, promise.) I need to let go of the fact that I would rather hold onto my Janet Evanovich books than my short story anthologies, because I've read Evanovich and those books make me happy. When I look at my short story anthologies, I feel that sense of failure--things I should be reading but just can't. Letting go of my Raymond Carver books (or my Anthony Doerr, or my Mary Gaitskill, or my whoever) isn't just letting go of the's letting go of a part of my personality I really wanted to cultivate (again, in my twenties) and never quite managed.

It's hard. The biggest thing this project has shown me is that I'm not just saying goodbye to stuff, to objects. That's the easy part. What's hard is coming to terms with the fact that I am not the person I ever thought I would be. That's not a bad thing--I'm very happy with who I am. And, I suspect once I buff off all of the muck and shine myself up, I'll be even happier.

The other, less esoteric, question is, do I keep books I've read and loved over books I think I'll like but haven't read? I used to re-read books all the time. I read Misery by my lover Stephen King over 20 times in a row...finished the last page, turned back to the first and started again. But, as I've grown up and widened my reading circles, I don't remember the last time I re-read a book. Who has the time? There are so many amazing books out there! But....well...I may have just answered my own question. Though it pains me.

The other thing is, books aren't photographs. They aren't precious heirlooms (for the most part). If I get rid of Janet Evanovich and suddenly am struck down by the overwhelming-can't-be-quelled-urge to read One for the Money , I can go out and buy it. Books are very, very replaceable. (Note: I'm not talking about first editions, signed copies, etc. That collection sits in its own special case and is not counted in my 788 total. Please.)

Lots to think about...but the truth is, my books are choking me. I've tied so much into them--into the titles, the authors, the physical appearance of so many books on my's not good. This will be a huge leap forward with Operation: Top 50%, and it needs to be done.


Julie said...

It is also difficult for me to get rid of books. However, I became a big library user a couple of years ago. Once that happened and I realized I could check out almost any book I'd ever want, it was much easier for me to let them go. I donated boxes and boxes of books the library. It felt good. It seemed right.

MissKristi88 said...

I always have a hard time getting rid of books. I've let go of the books I got to impress someone besides myself, but my Jen Lancaster, Sophie Kinsella, Augusten Burroughs, Tom Perrota, David Sedaris, Rebecca Wells and Mary Janice Davidson I just cannot seem to part with!

Leah said...

I thought you'd go through something like this with your books. I know a few literary people and another writer (currently starting her first year of grad school with Iowa), and books, the image they give you and the person you want to be with them, are exceptionally difficult to come to terms with. Hell, my bookshelves are pretty much solely Stephen King books, books from college I couldn't part with, the Harry Potter Series, and a few randoms here and there, and the idea of getting rid of any sounds horrible. I sympathize!!

Graham Kennedy said...

Blimey, what a quandary....don't get rid of them, start a neighbourhood library. Just stumbled on your blog, its like pandora's box :-) thanks

Kelly Flanigan said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! Graham, I like being compared to pandora's box--it suits me ;-)