December 4, 2008

Book Collection: Binge and Purge


I love this essay by the always brilliant Laura Miller.  You think you have problems containing your book collection?  Try being a book critic!

"Despite what I like to think of as a rigorous 'one book in, one book out' policy, it had begun to metastasize quietly in corners, with volumes squeezed on top of the taller cabinets and in the horizontal crannies left above the spines of books that had been properly shelved. It was time to cull."

Ever have that problem?  She covers the two schools of thought: the self-portrait school and the good intentions school.  The "self-portrait" folks see their collection as the perfect reflection of their inner selves.  The "good intentions" lot prefer to have piles of yet-to-read books so they'll never be at a loss for something.

At some point I morphed from one to the other.  I don't know when it happened.  I know in my youth I collected and cared for a whole lot of books.  I think it was in my post-college moves that I realized that this was too much.  I also discovered the joys of used book stores and have been trading down ever since.  It's liberating (for me) to take in four crates of books and walk out with a single shopping bag of future reading.  So now I've got things to probably a 50-50 split of read and unread.  Of course I also now live within walking distance to a library, so my own book collection isn't as big a deal to me anymore.

When I was growing up in a small town, there were no bookstores around.  The office supply shop had some things.  An hour drive to the big city mall was the only other place to shop for books and that was when the department stores had book sections.  The school book fair was a much bigger deal to me.  Nowadays, even without the internet, there are two superstores, a handful of independents and a few used book stores all within maybe 10-20 miles of me.

It is a great and treacherous world for a book lover.

(image cc sifter)