I dumped about a thousand of my oldest friends when I moved about a month ago and now I’m thinking of chucking the rest. They aren’t earning their keep any more. I mean my books, of course. My dear, dear old friends I couldn’t imagine ever being without. How did it come to this?
In our just-vacated loft, we had twenty eight-foot bookcases that held down the back corner (aka the library) of a seventy-foot bowling alley of a room. They made the place look warm and friendly. They made me feel cosseted and comfy. I really couldn’t imagine life without them. But who gets that much space in the real world? So when we moved, we agreed: two bookcases apiece, to go in the wide center hall, plus whatever we could jam into our respective offices.
And so the culling began. I had about 100 feet of signed books alone, plus an extensive mystery collection, a good bit of fiction, non-fiction on research subjects, and a lot of art books—by which I mean anything with pictures, including titles like “Caribbean Style.”
These don’t translate well to an ereader. The files are too big and besides, turning the pages and pondering pictures really is a pleasure you can’t reproduce electronically. So I kept those.
Next research books. Same deal—I turn the pages down, I stick post-its in, I underline. It’s just not the same on an iPad. The process is more cumbersome, though the hardware is much less so. So I kept most of my research library, all except for things like dictionaries and thesauruses, which nobody needs any more.
Now fiction. Yikes. Weren’t these the books I loved the most? Well, yes, but in most cases I rarely revisit them. And now they’re easily replaced for very little money (as ebooks). So out went everything—and I do mean everything–except my friends’ books, and certain books set in New Orleans whose authors I don’t know well or may never even have met. But I needed a New Orleans collection; I just did. (Hope I do meet Amanda Boyden some day—she’s a hell of a writer.) I must have chucked 500 signed books alone!
So here I am in elegant new digs with my precious remaining 1000 or so best friends and you know what? They’re frumping up my hall! Every time I come in, I do not feel cosseted or comfy. I feel oppressed. (I know, I should really move, but there’s a lease.) So it’s me or the books.
Even Lee’s getting less possessive of his “Sea Library,” as he calls it—another 1000 books about sailing, which he’d hoped to leave to his sons some day. But do his sons want a bunch of ancient tomes with tattered covers catching dust in their lean, sleek, 21st Century homes? Probably not.
So what now? Maybe the books could go in storage while we think about it. And we could live for awhile in a book-free zone. You believe what I just said? Neither do I. It would have been unthinkable before the digital era. I wish my head would stop spinning so I could get rational about this.