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.