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Saying Goodbye To Some Old Friends

Thursday, May 10, 2007

It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

No, I didn’t attend any funerals, or run any marathons. The play ran smoothly (thanks for asking, by the way), and the weather was absolutely gore-juss.

No, I say it was a tough weekend because we were spring cleaning. You see, after recently painting, and having new carpets put down, and completely re-arranging the furniture, it was time to get rid of some stuff. And the stuff we most needed to get rid of were books. Thus, t’was a weekend to say a permanent goodbye to some old friends.

In all, over the past month, we must have discharged at least 300 titles from our library (given to charity – not thrown out!). And that’s no small feat. Every title was considered and almost every title was agonized over and carefully evaluated. Sure, some were very easy – the superb biography of Peter Sellers by Ed Sikov – a definite keeper, while the paperback murder-mystery with the fanciful title, The Obituary Arrives at Two O’Clock, was tossed without so much as a by-your-leave.

But it’s the titles that have followed me since childhood, or teenager hood, or university that are the hardest to part with. And the silly thing is, there are a number of books that I own, that I’ve never even read. While their pages have remained pure, and un-flipped, their spines have become so familiar and so comfortable that they are carted around from place to place, apartment to apartment, year after year. I have kept these books for so long, not because they are great books, or because they have monetary value, but because of sentiment – and getting rid of them is tantamount to cutting off one’s arm. Well, perhaps that’s going too far – up until now I have managed to retain all my limbs.

This is not to say that unread books, kept on shelves, have no purpose at all. In the recent purge, I have kept a number of novels, and history books, biographies and poetry collections that I know full well I won’t get to for at least a few years, perhaps longer. These are books that I would be foolish to part with, because I intend on reading them.

And yes, some books have remained on the shelf, because they deserve a place in a library, even if I have no intention of ever reading them: Joyce’s Ulysses, Don Quixote, The Canterbury Tales, a smattering of Dickens, and of course, the complete works of Proust. Okay, well, I don’t actually own any Proust…but I probably wouldn’t read him even if I did. (To have not read Proust smacks of laziness, but to not even own Proust smacks of ignorance. So I suppose knowing I should own Proust, and not wanting to read him, makes me both.)

I’ve even kept some books that I didn’t enjoy reading, but feel I should keep more as a badge of honour than anything else. For instance, see Moby Dick. Also see Jane Eyre (read over a tortuous 24-hour period for an English course). Though I did get rid of a book I struggled with in another university course, not because it was a difficult read, but only because it is the most boring thing ever written: Ralph Connor’s The Man From Glengarry. Pioneer days, heavily protestant communities, the thrilling lives of log-drivers – enough said.

The emotional attachment to books runs very deep. Unlike movies, or music, they’re tactile objects, and the format never expires; the books I had as a child are still around, and still readable, and I haven’t had to upgrade any technology to enjoy them. But this emotional attachment can also be dangerous, and can get out of hand. I won’t say I have cracked the book-collecting habit, and I’m sure in five or so year’s time, another purge will have to be done, but for now anyway, the library feels a bit more streamlined, and a little less saggy in the middle. If only I could say the same thing about myself…


One Comment leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, May 10, 2007 1:18 pm

    Good article.

    I have recently considered doing this myself, as my bookcase is getting over-bloated. My problem is that I keep accepting books from other people which I end up reading instead of the ones I bought 7 years ago and haven’t touched yet.

    Will I ever get to Ulysses? I hope so.

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