Book Purge — The Hiatus

Looking back on ten weeks of hauling books from my shelves

Photo by Mike Wilson via Unsplash

I’m in the French Alps this week — with only four books — so the purge is on hiatus. The effects of the last ten weeks are with me even here, though. I know this because I find myself thinking of books to remove from my shelves when I get home.

I’m also excitedly looking forward to rescuing the dozen or so boxes of books from my attic, not so much to rediscover the books I banished up there many years ago but because I want to find more to send to the charity shops.

What accounts for this change of heart? In fact, this is not just a change of heart but a whole different approach to the books in my life.

Weight. The hundreds of books obviously weigh in at a considerable poundage but that’s not the sort of weight I mean. I’m talking the weight of expectation. The weight of self-doubt. The weight of not letting go.

Surrounded by books was meant to be an inspiration to write books. Surrounded by great books made me doubt my own abilities. Surrounded by crap books made me feel even worse. Surrounded by the same books over many years made me feel I was living in a recurring nightmare; stuck in a version of Groundhog Day without the laughs. I woke each day expecting to find the secret to adding my books to the growing library around me and went to bed each night no closer to uncovering that secret.

The books were starting to laugh at me.

I find myself thinking of what made me hang on to so many of those books for so many years past the time when I knew I would never read them again. I have been seeing books generically rather than individually. It was important for me to own books — to surround myself with books — rather than to select a few important books that really meant something to me.

I would covet great libraries when I saw photos of them. This was selfish, too, of course. My unwillingness to lend books points to the fact that any great library I owned would be solely for my benefit.

Thank god that’s over and done with. Now I can choose the books that mean something and which I will refer to often or read again with pleasure. And I will be quite liberal with those definitions and I know I’ll still end up with more books than my wife feels are strictly necessary. But that’s OK, too. Progress, not perfection.

I am not going to be counting the books out on a day to day basis any more. As and when I see one that needs to go, it will move to the exit pile. As I write this, I can’t quite believe it’s me feeling excited about getting rid of books.

But the sense of weightlessness this brings, brings hope in its wake.