Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Loving Books and Letting Go

t-shirt that says - So many books, so little time
T-shirt sold by Politics and Prose Bookstore

I love books. Most of my clients love books. And none of us will ever have time to read all the books we'd like to read.

But thanks to Discardia, I just read a wonderful article by Linda Holmes about coming to peace with this: with the fact that you're going to miss the "vast majority of the world's books, music, films, television and art." Here's a short quote, but I highly recommend reading the whole thing:
Culling is the choosing you do for yourself. It's the sorting of what's worth your time and what's not worth your time. ... It's saying, "I read the last Jonathan Franzen book and fell asleep six times, so I'm not going to read this one."

Surrender, on the other hand, is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn't have to threaten your sense that you are well-read. Surrender is the moment when you say, "I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I'm supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn't get to."
(And yes, I recognize there is something ironic about telling you to go read an article about not having time to read everything.)

Want more reassurance it's OK to not read everything - even everything good? Beth Carswell wrote about books that tend to "languish unopened" in her collection, including the classics:
I feel like I should read everything ever written by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo … I feel like I should forgo all chocolate and alcohol in favour of vegetables, too. And floss more. Constant flossing. I should be flossing right now. Things rarely work out that exact way.
Related Reading:
Letting Go of (Some of) the Books (my May 2010 newsletter)


Teri said...

Make the pain of culling books easier... join Paperback Swap! It's a great free site where you list up your books for trading. The best part is you're not trading book for book, but for credits so you can order ANYTHING listed from anyone. You can read the details of how to on the site but trust me, it's worth it! I've been a member for about 5 years.

Jonquil said...

Heh. My problem is not so much "mean to read" but "have read and think I might want to reread".

Here's my dad's awesome culling formula:

* Have I used it in the last six months?
* If not, do I expect to use it in the next six months?
* If not, can I replace it if I ever want another one?

You can substitute any period you like for "six months"; my dad's pretty hard-core.

JustGail said...

I had no issue getting rid of my fiction paperbacks and most old school books years ago. My cookbooks and sewing/needlework & gardening books are another story. It's interesting that most declutter the books posts seem geared toward fiction.

This was an interesting article - thanks for pointing it out.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

"(And yes, I recognize there is something ironic about telling you to go read an article about not having time to read everything.)"

Made me smile!

Now I've got to get those two bags of books I've read over to the used bookstore and library!

Jeri Dansky said...

Teri: Paperback Swap has a lot of fans; I've mentioned it in the past. I'm glad to know it works so well for you!

Jonquil: Your dad is onto something with that "replace it" question. The things we want to be most cautious about giving away are those that would be hard or impossible to replace if we have a change of heart.

I've given away books I later want to re-read - because my book group is reading them, for example. But those books can be gotten at the library, or at a used bookstore, or as eBooks. Having to replace one, once in a while, is worth it to me if it also means I don't keep tons of books around that will never get opened again

JustGail: I'll need to do a post sometime specifically about the type of books you're mentioning; I'm adding it to my list. But in a way, the linked article begins to address this. I'll never travel everywhere I'd like to go; you'll never do all the craft or garden projects you'd enjoy. Neither of us will cook every interesting recipe we see.

So: Are the books we keep supportive of the lives we want to live - where we do some of those things? Can we easily find the information we want, when we want it? Do we tend to go to the books for the information we want (such as recipes) or are internet sources replacing those reference books?

Cynthia: Always glad to make you smile!