Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Another blog is on the way.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Tarot of Books

I spent the weekend going through books.  My culling strategy turned out to be simple: I picked each book up and decided whether to keep it.

Once upon a time I read Tarot cards. Before shuffling the deck, I picked a signifier, one card that suggested my current state, leafing through the deck until I saw an image that rang true.  Actually, that’s the only part of Tarot reading that did me any good, searching out the card that described how I felt in a particular moment—conditions prevailing, changes beginning to register, The Empress, The Magician, The Hanged Man.  If you are a conscientious shuffler, the rest of the cards, the ones you actually turn up, are selected—I know this is hard to hear—randomly.

I picked up Meridel de Seuer’s Salute to Spring and after a moment re-shelved it. I held a biography of Agnes Smedley in my hands, considered the beautiful face on the cover, then threw it a box.  John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius stayed, but Harold Bloom’s Hamlet: Poem Unlimited went. I’ve read as much Harold Bloom, I decided, as I ever will.

Every book I looked at over the weekend felt like the signifier of a past self.  If I hadn’t read it, which was true of ten to twenty percent of my books, why not? Why had I chosen it in the first place? I recalled the state of mind I was in when I bought Don’t Be Nice, Be Real, but I worked through that iffy time sans self-help literature and hope never to return. Out.

What about Roberton Davies’ The Deptford Trilogy?  I got lost in it for a couple of blissful weeks in the early nineties, but if I want to re-inhabit a guilty community, I’d rather go home to Middlemarch. I kept all the old Penguins.  They don’t take up much space.

I hung on to everything I owned of Miriam Toews, Jim Crace, Barry Unsworth, James Lasdun, and Virginia Woolf, boxed up Anne Tyler and Margaret Drabble (all but The Needle’s Eye).

I moved all the poetry into my office but kept only the unread biographies.

I expected to get rid of the Christian theology--James Allison, John Dominic Crossan, Gustavo Gutierrez—but in the end I kept most of it.  I may never read those authors again, but they belong to a part of my life when I knew a few things for sure, and I don’t want to forget what that felt like.

The philosophy books went, except for Schopenhauer. Did I ever believe I was going to read Heidegger’s Being and Time?  

I hauled seven bags of books to Henderson’s in downtown Bellingham, and the buyer took only two bags. I asked for trade instead of cash--$120—but on the way home I wondered if that made sense.  I have maybe thirty boxes left to dispose of.  Do I want hundreds and hundreds of dollars in trade? What will I do with that except pile up more books?  I think I’ll sell as many as I can and donate the rest to the library. Maybe I’ll donate the money, too.