Moments of Truth


Books. How can you have too many books? So many minds and ideas, stories told, wonder shared. Someone asked me the other day how I wanted to write, so I said, “…like Max Brand mixed with Dickens, Jane Austen with Robert Parker, T.E. Lawrence and some Gerald Durrell.” In other words the only way I could find to say what I wanted was to give other names, look to other writers. People who’ve filled my brain with images and sounds, smells and textures I never had for myself. Who through analogue and suggestion have populated my memory, made me who I am.

And I have no shame. I will read anything I want to read, trashy, ludicrous, profound and staggeringly beautiful. I don’t care if you sneer, this is my pleasure and my inspiration. Have you ever read Slippy McGee? Or the U.S. Naval Institute’s Division Officer’s Guide from 1959 (fourth edition. Snyder’s The Changeling, or Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead?

But there comes a time when the bookshelves fill up. If you have my luck, you have a spouse who can build bookshelves. Nice new book shelves smelling of beeswax polish, the ghosts of wood stain and sawdust. Still there comes a time when you fill all the walls that can take bookshelves. Then you begin to stack books on their sides atop the rows, or double up the runs of paperbacks on each shelf. (Hardbacks aren’t sufficiently forgiving.) But that too, runs abruptly to an end. Space so far as my house is concerned, is not infinite. So do you go down the dubious path– do you let the first few volumes lie on the floor? In a discrete corner somewhere? Only few odd-sized hardbacks… just temporarily of course, until you have the intestinal fortitude to actually get rid of some books.

Just, until. Talk about slippery slopes.

So two weeks ago I went to my mystery section and weeded. I figured this was a start of reform. Culled duplicates, took out stories I felt I wouldn’t lend or read again. Books which may have held my attention once, but didn’t have that haunting quality that brings me back for a repeat read. Some in which I had tried forty pages or so, but they never held me. (This latter group is tricky because I certainly have had the experience of trying a book, rejecting it, but perhaps years later picking it up and finding it a page turner, hilarious or grave, but riveting.)

How many books could I bear to let go? Two boxes. Not bad, you say, getting ready to applaud me, but stop right there! How much space did this earn me? Enough to get the books onto shelves that had been lying athwart the tops of their chums. Enough to remove the books stacked sideways. Plus perhaps enough space to go to a book sale and buy ten more paperbacks. That’s it. That’s all.

Maybe, instead of resolution and reform, it’s time for blatant recidivism and revolt.

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