On the Bookshelf

Thanksgiving Day today; so many things for which one can and should be thankful and a new one just hit me:

In the room where I write is a deep bookshelf, and over the years it’s been packed full – valued volumes first in normal line-up, then lain down sideways and piled till they filled the space right up to the shelf above, then when that was still not enough space, a second row stacked in front of those, so you had to pull out one bunch to even see what was behind. Later small stacks inserted on the rest of the shelves wherever a small niche afforded – six books here on top of the board games, ten over there next to the stereo equipment.  Down there, they were packed in between boxes holding the good china we used to bring out for holidays but rarely do any more. Wall to wall books, eventually, and something of a reassurance, a comfort.

Lately though, I’ve been culling.  Pulling out volumes one by one and asking if each of them really deserves to be kept. If I were to pack up and move tomorrow, would I really want to carry this book with me?  Or that?

Three boxes have gone to local libraries so far, for their used-book sales (funding local libraries being an unalloyed good cause, in my book).  Gone the collected copies of every novel by John LeCarre (still revered, but I know I can find them if I ever wish) keeping only the Smiley series and Little Drummer Girl, favorites to which I might want to refer for some hint at character or pacing.  Gone too, Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass series – fun and valued, but I’ll be fortunate if I can ever get around to re-reading Tolkien, I seriously doubt I’ll never make it to Pullman.  Gone are several volumes by Ann Patchett and Michael Chabon – favorite authors but I’ll keep only my favorites of each, and not necessarily the most widely known.

No big surprise that it’s been satisfying to see the space become less full and a bit more ordered, but what struck me just now, looking at the remaining titles, is how my bookshelf has been concentrated and fortified.  Names pop out,; there’s Woof and Winterson, there Krakauer and Gaiman and next to them.  Attwood, Ishiguro, Ondatje and McEwan.  Like grape juice fermented into wine, and wine distilled to brandy, so my library is improved with editing.  Now when I turn away from the computer to ponder an idea, I find myself confronted with a collection of truly-valued works; a chorus of voices worth looking up to, a challenge to emulate.

So this year’s Thanksgiving resolution is to keep culling and selecting, to create a bookshelf that truly inspires, reflecting the literary abundance available to us in this age of free libraries, portable e-books, and self-publishing.   Bookstores are struggling( a real loss) and hard-copy sales declining (I rate myself a lover of the hard-copy experience) but e-books are growing quickly, and self-publishing means voices that would never gain a for-profit publisher can now be heard, if only be a lucky few.

My bookshelf may someday be replaced by an index of file names – but one way or another, story-telling will be with us as long as human beings have imagination and the ability to visualize what is not physically before their eyes. So long as humans are humans, that is, and as long as there are stories being told, even a small collection can be a treasure trove, and an abundance.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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