I’ve had a serious insurance claim-type problem in the first floor of my house, and am having to move my entire record collection (including 78s), 8/10ths of the cds, plus pretty much all my books relating to southern history, southern literature, general fiction, some popular science and math books, among other things.
It’s made me contemplate seriously the books that are double shelved, and the question of whether I’ll ever use a book again. Use can mean so many things: Refer to it, recommend, it, re-read it.
Trying to narrow things down (a process that let me eliminate well over a hundred books), I got brutal. Am I ever going to use this again in any way? There were a lot of different ways a book lost out in this process. Jon Ronson’s books (Them or The Psychopath Test) as an example, I richly enjoined, but can’t imagine reading again (and, if I did, it would really be wasted time). There’s fiction I can’t imagine getting around to reading . There’s fiction I read and resent the time spent on it (Jonathan Franzen’s latest). There are a couple of duplicates (An excellent history of populism called Populist Vanguard– how did I get two of those?– and Charles Mackay’s classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, a book I’ve bought at least four times, and that everyone should have. And then there’s this: Every time I dip into Nevin’s multivolume history of the Civil War, I come away disappointed and thinking I had no answer, or a superficial one.
But the critical factor in looking at all these was this: Am I going to want to look at this book again, while I’m living? If I haven’t read this, is there any chance I’m going to? If I’ve read it, will I look at it again or give it to someone else? If not, is this copy worth keeping anyway?
But part of the process was this: Facing more directly than usual the limited time I have before me. Am I going to be able to get to this?
Most of what I’m letting ago fit in two categories: Books I’ve finished, liked, but don’t need in the future, and books I’ve finished, did not like, and will happily let go. That said, I was still made to more directly than usual confront the limited time I have to read.