Wednesday, October 19, 2005

BOOKS: Going, Going, Going... and Gone. Sort of.

It was brutal, but we did it.

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?"
"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."
Despite Rusty's imperviousness to my bullying, we managed to cull a large -- some might say an alarmingly large -- number of books.

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 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.


Anonymous said...

Ach! I've been thinking about doing that for... a couple of months, since I bought an extra bookshelf and managed to fill THAT UP TOO with no room for books I wanted to buy. I think maybe I'll just cull the bottom three shelves because I shelved them by preference/regularity of reading.

See, I have the presence of mind to shelve them like that but it hadn't actually occurred to me I could get rid of some. Heh. Go you!

PS. I just clicked on an ad. Which was entitled "urine off".

Anonymous said...

For the record, it ELIMINATES URINE. How cool is that?!

Anonymous said...

I applaud your ditching Patrick White, if nothing else; I have a lingering grudge against that bastard for A Fringe of Leaves.

Rebecca said...

Wow - congratulations! That was a major purge, and you've done a great job!

(And don't forget that if you're ever seized with the urge to read something you've tossed, there's always the public library, who can also get you books from other places if they don't have them in the system.)

Anonymous said...

Hee! I'm blushing and everything.

In my dream apartment I'm going to have that quote done up in calligraphy, framed, and hung next to my bookshelf, which will be bigger than the one I have now.

Speaking of inspiration, you've finally convinced me it is time to do the same with my cookbook collection (I have a good handle on the rest of them, just because the apartment is just that damn small).

-- Kim

Low Flying Angel said...

Well done :-) If you would like to re read anything you got rid of you can always borrow it from the library.

KT said...

Congrats ... I have to do that every once in a while because I have so little shelving and it's always sad. The best time was when I went to England and a friend took all of my books. He actually still has most of them and when I go to his place I look at them fondly, like kids that went off to college or something.

Anonymous said...

I think what impresses me the most is the quick turnaround between "we have to do this" and "we did this". Wow.

Tammy said...

Hey, thanks for the props, everybody. As I think I mentioned in my entry, I would've gotten intimidated and given up on the project at the very beginning if I hadn't talked all big in my previous entry. Yes, that is correct: I did not want to look like a quitter in front of a lot of people who only know me through the internet. Strangely, I've had no problem looking like a quitter for YEARS in front of my husband and people who know me "in real life". Go figger. Heheh.

Rae, I think Fringe of Leaves was the novel that did me in, too! Though I maintain, as Antipodean will agree, Voss is -- to use bombastic movie-review terminology -- a powerful tour-de-force.

I'm thiiiinking that one prong in my many-pronged attempt to get rid of all the excess books will be to have a giant book yard sale. I live in exactly the kind of neighbourhood where this idea would actually fly. In fact, before Sam was born, we had a yard sale to clear some space and I put out about three big boxes worth of books, and they went surprisingly quickly. What was most fun was seeing who the books were going to and talking to random strangers about books. If they asked mey opinion on a book, I was 100% honest and told them if I liked it or not, and why. It was so much fun! I'll keep you posted if I do this.

And now... I'm off to buy some Urine Off! It ELIMINATES URINE, people. I'm not sure how this works, or if it involves making my pets drink it first, but that's what the scientific method is for.

Anonymous said...

great to see the before and after pictures of the bookshelf. very cool. very funny that cat made herself cozy. i'm sure peeps have suggested it but consider - the vancouver chapter is a buzzin'.

Anonymous said...

what is the name of your cat?
Can you post more photo of his/her?

Tammy said...

Thanks for the tip, baby sister!

Anonymous, my cat's name is Lulu. Weirdly enough, we have very few photos of her, though we have probably hundreds of our other cat, Puck, who should have been a cat model, he's that big a ham. Lu, on the other hand, is much more reclusive and manages to slip away almost every time the camera comes out.

pooja* said...

I really love that quote...did I miss a link to Kim's site? Did you write that, Kim? Hee! I'd like to attribute it to someone when I use it!

Marleah said...

I know you're thinking about the yard sale idea, but if you want to get more books in return (God, I'm such an enabler), check out !!

KHB said...

You're a stronger person than I am. :)

If you want to do something with the discarded books that will bring entertainment to your life and enrichment to others' (but will not, alas, bring money to your wallet) I'd totally recommend Bookcrossing them. Imagine how much fun it could be to pick places and release over a thousand books into the wild... I feel all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it. :)