I have spent the better part of my life in libraries and bookstores. I now have my own library, a collection that, over the years and despite many moves, has grown to include hundreds of books. Once a source of great pride, recently, my library has started to seem like a burden. Maybe it’s the urge to move again and the prospect of again packing, moving, then unpacking all those books that has me thinking that it’s time to sort, winnow, and possibly jettison the whole kit and caboodle.
The first library I remember visiting was in upstate NY. At the time, my parents were raising seven little girls on a shoestring. Since, buying books was out of the question, we regularly trooped to the library where we each got to borrow a few volumes and a record or two.
At the age of five, the family relocated to Connecticut where the Hamden Public Library provided a great place to hang out. Sure, reading ensued, but a trip to the library was also an excellent way to dupe the parental unit.
In my senior year of high school, I discovered Cross Campus Library at Yale. Later, as an employee (at the library, of course), I gained access to all the libraries on campus and became hopelessly spoiled. Thereafter, no other university library could ever compare.
I began buying books in Paris, even managed to lug a few home (the not so petite Petit Robert, as I recall) but left most behind when I moved to L.A. There, when I discovered that the main public library had burned down and the new library under construction wouldn’t be open for several years yet, I suffered an anxiety attack. The libraries at USC? Oh, puh-leeze. There and then, I vowed to build my own library.
Twelve years later, all but my prized first editions made the move to Montreal. The rest wound up at a shelter for homeless kids with AIDS. No worries. I quickly replaced the essentials and bought new additions at a feverish clip. When budget worries put a break on spending, I went back to the library, borrowed four and five a visit. A back-breaking exercise, I resumed buying books as soon as I had a few sous to rub together. Now, fifteen years after moving to Montreal, with a move on the horizon, my collection has clearly gotten out of control.
I admit it. I am the Imelda Marcos of books. Do I really need two copies of Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, two copies of Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, three editions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence (including The Original), a heap of screenplays downloaded over the years and readily available online (except for the Angel Heart shooting script I managed to get my hands on somewhere or other)? Nearly complete collections of books by Atwood, Ford, Dubus père (plus galleys of the Study of the Short Fiction of Andre Dubus by Thomas E. Kennedy), Banks, Ford and Vidal? Language learning books with the companion tapes (yes, tapes) and CDs for Spanish and Italian^
Buying a Kindle last March has helped some. So far, 81 books are stored there instead of being jammed horizontally atop the vertical volumes on the groaning shelves of my cheap Ikea bookcases that seem to do little more than collect dust these days.
Turns out, I am not alone in my mania to collect and display books. In search of validation, I have sought out and found kindred spirits online who have decided to do the unthinkable: get rid of the books.
No, this is not the germ of a New Year’s resolution. It’s a realization that my books are just the tip of an iceberg, a sloppy heap of useless clutter, not all physical, that is beginning to suffocate me.
So, I’ll start with the books, the biggest chunk of clutter and the things that mean the most to me. For the rest? Piece of cake!
The Carrot Seed, an early favourite reinterpreted.