Paring down

I’ve been slowly reducing the size of my book collection. There’s a big used bookstore in Knoxville called McKay’s that I’ve patronized for years (along with the rest of literate Knoxville). When I first moved here and was getting into ebay, I spent some time buying up cheap batches of sci fi and mystery novels there and reselling them for a decent profit at McKay’s. Naturally, I always opted to get store credit instead of cash because you get a much higher return that way. Until this weekend, I had five sets of bookshelves in my office. For a long time, they’ve had books crammed in every spot and then stacked up sideways in front of the shelved books and in some cases stacked on the floor and in other spots of the house (there’s usually a stack of four or five books on my nightstand). Several times in the last few months, we’ve taken big boxes of books down to McKay’s to resell, just to help get rid of some of the clutter. We’re considering selling our house, and as part of an effort to do even more cleanup, I stayed up very late Sunday night cleaning up the office. In the process, I eliminated two bookshelves and produced the stack of books pictured here, some of which I’m having a really hard time getting rid of. It just bothers me to get rid of Yeats’s collected poems, for example, though I haven’t picked that book up more than five times in the last seven years. The same goes for a book of Hardy’s poems (and several novels) and the book of Restoration and Augustan poets and of that Chekhov I’ve been meaning to read for years. And then the books of Renaissance theater history and literary criticism I cling to with a special urgency even though I’ve cracked none of them since college.

But it’s time to pare down. I’m finally admitting to myself that I’m not the literary consumer that I used to be and have always wanted to be. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m keeping the books that are the most important to me (DFW, Gaddis, Pynchon are going nowhere; nor is Melville; nor are my old, old volumes of Longfellow and Jonson and Byron). But I am finally sloughing off the books that I’ve held onto for years almost out of a sense of (not necessarily premeditated) pretension or self-importance (“If I have all these books on my shelves, people will think I’m well-read and smart”). As hard as it is to get rid of some of these, it feels good to eliminate some of the clutter from my life.

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