Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring Cleaning (Or Not...)

So, I read the New York Times almost every morning as part of my daily ritual of going through the rooms and corridors of my brain, flipping switches and powering-up the machinery.  (There's also some coffee involved.)  And sometimes I don't like what I read.  Sometimes it forces me to think about stuff I'd just as soon ignore.

The problem with "thinking too much" (a fault I've often been accused of) is that sometimes you think about something awful, something you never EVER want to think about.  And the friggin New York Times has a reputation for 'asking those tough questions' which often translates into 'making us think about the things we want to ignore'.

And now those rotten jerks did it again.  I've tried to ignore the story but it keeps cropping up in the lower corner.  They. Just.  Won't.  Let. It.  Rest.

Well, it's Easter morning and one of the rites of spring is supposed to be cleaning and getting your house in order.  So I guess it's high time I dealt with this uncomfortable subject.  Confronted those shadowy corners of my subconscious...

Those jerks at the New York Times posited that one might actually want to... much less actually have to... (deep breath) occasionally get rid of some books.  Those sick, awful journalists asked a bunch of authors about culling their personal libraries and what books they absolutely could not part with.

The horror!

So in the event of a library fire -- assuming the safety of loved ones, pets, irreplaceable antiques, photos and the family Bible -- what do you grab on the way out the door?

I suppose that it would too ironic to grab A Gentle Madness, Nicholas Basbanes ode to book collecting, or Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue, though I re-read both of them all the time.  I have some signed first editions that would not be so easily replaced and some children's books both antique and modern that I adore and someday hope to share.  Poe and Tolkien and Conan Doyle all have their place on the tops of my lists as do the more modern voices of Zalazny, Chabon, Eggers, Newson, Lehane and Gaiman...  but any of those could still be replaced at your local bookstore.

The book that taught me most has to have been my Complete Works of William Shakespeare. No library should be considered complete without it and there is precious little about storytelling that you cannot learn from those hallowed pages.  But my Riverside Shakespeare can be replaced at any used bookstore and anyway, it's too easy.

And by the bye, anyone who tops their desert island list with Robinson Caruso should be horsewhipped on principle (I'm sure Defoe would back me on that).  Anyone who doesn't top that list with a stack of survival guides probably isn't going to live long enough to sit back and enjoy reading Ulysses while sipping homemade rum from a hollow coconut.

So what would I grab?  Doesn't my hypothetical library have a fire extinguisher?

Maybe a better way to tackle this is the way they did, as a meditation on spring cleaning.  What books could I - at least theoretically - do without?

The home improvement books would free up a shelf or two and in digital formats dictionaries are easier to handle, if less satisfying on a tactile level.  I have a lot of detective novels and miscellaneous paperbacks that I'll probably never read again.  My wife and I have been going through those and slowly donating them or shipping them off to good homes where they'll have a second life.

No.  I give up.  This is too hard.
Bring me a fire extinguisher and call the fire brigade, I'm going in...
Published: December 27, 2009
Six authors read favorite passages from books they would never discard. What would you throw out and what you would keep?

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).