Part of our recent family room re-do was an honest assessment of our bulging bookcases. Shelved two deep, the massive collection of tomes was pretty ridiculous. Apart from one mini-purge about 10 years ago, when I donated The Thorn Birds to the library, and afterward regretted it for months, it’s been all acquisition and no divestiture in the book department.
We decided to buy some spiffy new bookcases, with narrower shelves to prevent us from double stacking again. Clearly, something had to give. We piled every book we owned into boxes, pitched our old bookcases (several of which literally came apart as we de-booked them), and enjoyed the pristine nature of our brand new, empty wood furniture pieces for weeks. We knew we were just stalling, and that eventually we’d have to weed out some of our vast collection.
The day came at last, and I insisted on being Chief Sorter, Saver and Discarder. At first, the chore was moving along quickly and efficiently, but that’s only because I discovered some duplicates right away, and even I know that no household needs more than one copy of Gift from the Sea. But then I slowed down, way, way down, flipping through scores of novels and short story collections and memoirs. Suddenly they all looked like must-save gems of literature! But after putting The Prince of Tides in the donation box, then fishing it back out again, twice, I asked myself the hard question: will I ever read this book again? Or have I had my fill of Pat Conroy’s Southern dramas? As I proceeded, the question became: will I ever read this book for the first time? Because there were quite a few of those. James Joyce’s Ulysses, I’m talking about you. By the way, the Japanese have a word for someone buying lots of books they never read: “Elise.” Just kidding. It’s “tsundoku.” I much prefer this name to the rather pejorative “bibliomaniac”—tsundoku sounds like a sacred religious practice, or perhaps a variation on origami.
The painful process ended at last, with a curated assortment filling the shelves. We carted out the donation boxes, and for a nano-second I was feeling quite proud of myself. But then the remorse set in. What if I lose my now-lone copy of Gift from the Sea in a house fire? What if I have a sudden craving for run-on sentences about Dublin, or tangled sagas set in coastal South Carolina? How could I have parted with both Dave Barry Turns 40 AND Dave Barry Turns 50? What have I done?
Too late now. I have to content myself with the hundreds of books that remain, and forget about the ones I so callously gave away. I am somewhat consoled by the two brim-full bookcases in my office at church, which include outdated youth ministry books, florid devotionals I’ll never read, and multiple copies of The Lutheran Handbook. For now at least, I’m keeping them all.
You got a problem with that?