It was kind of like ripping off a bandage... except for the fact that I got into it in a really big, masochistic way, so a better analogy would be: it was like getting a hundred really good bandages -- say, Elastoplast, not those cheap-ass brands that fall off if you breathe on them -- and placing them over ninety percent of your body, and then haphazardly ripping them off while yelling through clenched teeth, "It hurts! But it feels so GOOD!"
(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go here for context.)
When Rusty Iron saw me get like this, he asserted that he always knew there was a good reason why he wrote his name inside all his books after we got married: to keep me from claiming them as my own and purging them. I must admit to having been a bit of a bully. Here's a partial transcript:
"Why on earth do we have two copies of A Clockwork Orange?"Despite Rusty's imperviousness to my bullying, we managed to cull a large -- some might say an alarmingly large -- number of books.
"Double the horrorshow."
"Waiting for Godot... yay or nay? I'm thinking nay."
"Well, it's only the cornerstone of contemporary theatre."
"Oh, Christ. Okay. Um, do we need to keep all this Camus and Sartre."
"I'm going to finally finish them."
"Hm... even Dostoyevsky?"
"If you get all existential and kill yourself and make me a single mother, I'm going to be really mad. Okay, can I at least turf all this Hermann Hesse?"
"What? Why do you want to do that?"
"Because it's embarrassing to be 35 years old and still have a copy of Siddhartha on your shelves."
"We should keep it. For Sam to read someday."
"Oh, God. All right then, I'm getting rid of Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn."
"But that's Henry Miller! He's dirty!"
"Okay, first? We've had these for more than ten years and you've never read them. And second, Henry Miller is boring and overrated. I'll find you good porn if you want it, but this isn't it."
"Sam can get his own porn."
"Fine. You're getting rid of the dictionaries?"
"Dude, we have the internet."
"What if we need to know the meaning of a word and the power goes out?"
"Good point. I'll put one back. I'm going to get rid of all these Richards Adams novels."
"Okay. Who's that?"
"The guy who wrote Watership Down."
"Oh. Oh! I've never read that. Keep that one."
"I have anxiety attacks just thinking about those rabbits, and you're going to make me keep it? What did I ever do to you? Hey, did you know we have, like, five bibles? Which one's your favourite?"
"That one. No, that one. No. Wait a sec. That one."
"Why that one?"
"I like the cover."
"What about all this sci-fi? Can we get rid of these ones?"
"Those are by Phillip K. Dick!"
"You know what?"
"You can suck my Phillip K. Dick."
Not surprisingly, we divorced ourselves from I-was-going-through-a-phase writers like Emile Zola, Mordecai Richler (except for my personally signed copy of Solomon Gursky Was Here), Rudyard Kipling, Ayn Rand, and even Stephen Leacock.
What surprised me more was realizing how many books I originally thought I'd want to keep, but which I ultimately was kind of "meh" about. I really didn't want most of Jane Smiley's books, deciding that there are only three that I actually like enough to read again: A Thousand Acres, Horse Heaven, and The Age of Grief. I also turfed my modest collection of Joyce Carol Oates's novels. I like Oates, but I just feel so emotionally shredded by the time I finish one of her books (Them -- which I read, and loved, after reading Gwen's recommendation on her site -- and We Were the Mulvaneys, I'm looking at you) that I can't imagine ever being able to read it again.
I was disheartened to see how many of Patrick White's books I was getting rid of that I hadn't even read. When I was in university, I first read Voss (a fantastic book that nobody seems to have heard of, despite the fact that it helped White win a little trophy called the Nobel Prize back in 1973), and I loved it so much that it spurred me to pick up every White novel I found at yard sales and used-book stores... only to realize that Voss was probably his best novel. My enthusiasm waned quickly thereafter.
What's really great is that I now have a small stack of rediscovered unread books waiting for me, fabulous gems like Martin Amis's Einstein's Monsters, Ronald Wright's Time Among the Maya, Neil Postman's The Disappearance of Childhood, Michael Turner's Hard Core Logo, and The Second Sex (by Simone de Beauvoir, of course, who also happens to be winner of the Coolest Name Ever award).
What's really, really great, though, is that my book of Martha Stewart paper dolls finally resurfaced. Whee!
And what's really, really, REALLY great is that I feel wonderful. I feel like someone has carefully removed my soul, laundered it with environmentally friendly soap, hung it on the line to dry on a balmy June day, pressed it with just the lightest sprinkling of starch, and gently re-inserted it into my corporeal self.
I'm still considering ways and means of getting rid of all the books I'm done with (and thanks again to everyone who posted suggestions and moral support! As corny as this may sound, I honestly couldn't have done this without you and this site). But in the meantime, check out this pared-down bookcase action:
Do you see that? There are actually empty shelves in my bookcase, for the first time in... forever. And, of course, a cat has rushed in to shed hair on them.
Before I sign off -- and by "sign off" I mean "go stare rapturously at my shelves for the eleventeenth time today" -- I want to give a shout-out (do people still do this or are shout-outs totally yesterday.com?) to Kim for posting this excellent -- if enabling -- piece of found wisdom:
"The buying of more books than one can possibly read is the soul's way of aspiring towards infinity."There. I knew it wasn't just because I'm a lazy slob.