My Books And I Are Splitting Up

It’s not me; it’s them

It’s possible to have too many books. I never thought I would write that. My wife has been telling me we don’t have room for so many books for almost all the twenty-five years of our marriage. My parents could never understand why I spent money on books when there were libraries. (They wouldn’t be able to use that argument now, of course, as public libraries across the UK feel the force of the ideological attack on all sources of free education under the cover of austerity.)

But I have reached peak book. Or the house has. But it’s not just a matter of space any more. I look at the shelves and the books I have read and the books I have not read and the books I will never read and I realise that those shelves have become oppressive. And on a practical note, I have boxes of books in the attic that I haven’t seen in a decade or so. If I have books I want them visible. There is no point in having them. I want to reach out and find again a fact or a quotation or even a sexy scene I want to read again.

And yet, given the state of my shelves — and there are shelves in many rooms in the house already — if I bring the books down from the attic and try to display them, they’ll simply hide more of the books on the shelves. As it is, I can’t quickly retrieve a book because they are stacked both horizontally and vertically at least two deep on most of my shelves.

Then there is the whole taunting aspect. I’ve spent much of my life believing I was meant to write books. How many of my books are on the shelves? Or any shelves. None. That’s a bit of a kick in the teeth, to be honest.

So it’s time to liberate my shelves and my oppressed self-esteem from the burden of too many books. This won’t be a quick process and there are books I know I want to keep. But those books that I know I won’t read again and which don’t fall under a fairly flexible category of classic or favourite or vital reference are on the way out. I plan to take it slowly: one book a day. Then each week I’ll take the small pile to a local charity shop — a different one each week in rotation — and say farewell.

I may say thank you to each book. I may express my gratitude that they have been part of my life but I’ll be firm; it’s time to part. It’s not you, I’ll tell them; it’s me. It’s no longer working out and we’re not going to recapture that early thrill. You’ll be better off with someone else.

My daughter Isla is promising to help me. She’s in the process of clearing out old clothes and thinks she’s an expert now at brutal rejection. I’m not letting my wife get anywhere near this process, though, or there could be no books left at all. I could have shelves of candles.

With little thought I’ve grabbed the first book that looks a likely candidate. There’s no point making all this bold plan and not taking action. Today’s book, then, is Dead Man’s Time by Peter James. I haven’t read it and I doubt I shall. I think I bought that for my father and, after he read it, he gave it to me. It’s not that I don’t read thrillers or crime or any genre stuff; I just know I won’t read this. One of the problems is that if I read a series of books, I want to start at the beginning and this is not the first in the series and if I go back and buy the first in the series I suddenly find myself with another dozen books. This is an addiction, after all. So, apologies to Peter James. But I suspect that the book will soon find a new home. It is in pristine condition, by the way. Good as new.

I hope I may be, too, at the end of this process.

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