We cleaned out the shed recently and part of the process was sorting through boxes of books and culling. It’s a little like the editorial process. You see what must stay, you see what needs to go, even if you were attached some time ago, and you have a lot of decisions to make as to whether keeping or jettisoning is best. Mostly unlike the editorial process, you are giving the jettisoned items a new home, although there is always the thought that no-one will want what you at some stage saw some merit in and kept for a number of years in the shed where space is at a premium. Of course having a shed means that more books have stayed than perhaps should have. Perhaps? Ok, they should not have been kept. But then they are a bit like lost dogs. Someone has to look after them. They are not just for Christmas.
The decision making process involved making stacks on the back veranda, in yes, no and maybe piles. They shifted somewhat when considerations were made that I hadn’t originally thought of. Initially, it was to be: keep, sell, op-shop. But then smaller subsets arose – the stack of individual books marked out for individuals – ‘they might like this’. ‘These would be good for the beach house’. ‘Would my uni classmates have read these?’ ‘Should I give away proofs?’ That gradually increasing ambiguity aside, decisions were made, boxes moved to the front veranda. Ever so slightly closer to leaving the premises. They should have left there and then. But given time, I succumbed to having a second look. Some of this was good (if the intended outcome is reducing the books on the premises). I was brave and sensible. Some I was going to keep I placed in the giveaway boxes. Some books just moved around in the queue. Some I was going to give away might be wanted at the second hand bookshop (though in my experience, they take the books I think it unlikely they will want and reject the books I am sure they would display proudly in their window). Some that I was going to sell I impulsively and extremely generously donated to the op-shop. Only a few were returned to the house (‘how could I give these away? What was I thinking?’).
How does one decide? Unread books, still full of potential, they can stay, unless the trend has passed and the interest has died. Books already read are prime candidates for discarding. But then again, my wife should read them. Or my son. In only ten years he will be ready to read a lot of this stuff. It would seem easy to justify keeping classics. And mostly I did. But classics are everywhere and cheap, why should I bury a copy in the shed for (another) ten years? And who I am to impose so-called classics on my son? Or wife. Other books I have already read I might want to read again. Will I ever get the chance? Well, not all of them, obviously. But how do I decide now what I will want to re-read or not re-read in twenty years? Better to be sure. But I also have a library in the house full of unread books. Now it is not a strange thing that the library is populated by unread books. A library is not a trophy cabinet. A library is a store for possibilities and future pleasures. But because it is there, full of as-yet unread books, is it in the slightest bit sensible to also keep already read books in the shed, ready for re-reading? (‘Already read books in the shed, ready for re-reading’ – is that a line from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem?) But I know that as soon as I discard some book, someone will be talking about something and I will say, ‘hey! I have a book on that somewhere!’ only to find that in a fit of decluttering it has gone to God. Or at least St Vinnie’s.
I haven’t been to the second hand bookshop yet, but I did drop off four boxes of books to the op-shop. I am starting to get a prickling sweaty feeling. Maybe I was too hasty.