Midweek Miscellany: Percy Murdered My Library (apologies to Linda Grant!)

Have you found, dear reader, that there has come a time in your life when you’re forced to cull your beloved treasures?  Have you ever realized that it’s time to say “adieu” to your yellowing edition of Catcher in the Rye, once read so eagerly but untouched since age fifteen, or your grubby copy of Catch 22, replete with (traumatic) memories of boot camp and bearing an almost illegible name tag and serial number?  That perhaps you don’t need all three copies of Wings of the Dove, acquired because each has a different cover illustation, or that your ten Georgette Heyer novels are now available (and easier to read) on kindle and no longer need shelf room?

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Here’s Percy, caught red-pawed in the act of novelicide (actually, I’m being a bit unfair. His role was more that of an extremely willing accomplice!)

Propelled by the possibility of a long-distance move, Janakay is now in that time of reevaluation and has spent a harrowing few weeks deciding who (so to speak) lives and dies in her book collection.  Fortunately, as you can see from my photo, I have not been without assistance!

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Percy supervising Pooh Bear in box assembly.
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Maxine at work on the upstairs trove.  Percy isn’t the only cat in the house who doesn’t see the point of all these things on the shelves.

 

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More work for Maxine . . .
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and more . . .

 

 

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… and yet more … Maxine’s going to be a busy cat!

 

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Back to downstairs and Percy’s domain . . . he’s a particularly dedicated ornithologist, so many of these birding books are right up his alley!

 

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Not sure who should handle art books, Henry James and Mr. Janakay’s military history . . . this might be a job for Pooh Bear, who by nature is a very serious cat  . . .
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Speaking of serious, who best to tackle all these non-fiction books, including Runciman’s History of the Crusades and a three-volume history of Byzantium?  Do any of the cats speak Greek?
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Who best to tackle (more) art books and museum guides?
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Short stories, bibliographies and memoirs (to the right) and poetry (to the left) . . . hmmm . . .  who’s the most poetical cat?

 

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(Yet) more art books, Persephone editions and literary criticism.  Someone’s been investigating these areas, to judge by the cat toy on the top of the book case (it’s the little yellow striped thing to the left of the towering pile).

 

If you’ve visited my blog in the past, when I did occasionally manage to stay somewhat current, I’m sure by now you understand why I haven’t been posting for  — my goodness,  gracious me —  can it be almost five weeks now?  No posts since Halloween?  Of course, I haven’t been sorting books for the entire last five weeks — there were some minor academic matters to wrap up, some lovely light reading to do (Louis Auchincloss is always good for this) and movies to see (if you’re a Scorsese fan you can’t miss “The Irishman;” “Parasite” is great and “Knives Out” isn’t bad but I’d advise you to skip “The Lighthouse”).  Also, after I decided to at least consider a move, I fell into a period of near-catatonia, triggered by the very notion of discarding any of my beloved book collection (at the risk of sounding heartless, I can say that I’ve  experienced the death of blood relations — well, some of them anyway — with less emotion!)

But amusements and psychological trauma aside, the past month or so has seen a great deal of bookish exertion on my part, with rivers of books (so to speak) flowing up and down my house’s too many stairs.  I did (briefly) consider keeping everything, but quickly discarded that notion —  there are just too many multiple copies and books that I no longer need (do those twenty odd books on Vermeer, Rubens and van Dyck deserve shelf room, now that I’ve finished my class work on Baroque art?); that I’ve read and enjoyed but don’t plan on revisiting (Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, for example, a fabulous novel but not one on my re-read list ) or that I’ve outgrown along with the hobby or activity that prompted their acquisition.

It’s been an emotional process, no doubt about it, saying good-bye to certain old friends, many of which are associated with very specific periods in my life (yes, I did read that copy of Catch 22 when I was not otherwise occupied in surviving boot camp and that battered old copy of Alice in Wonderland is still sticky with the adhesive tape a nine-year-old me used to repair it).  There’s also the angst involved in acknowledging that most of my unread books will stay unread, at least by me, and facing up to the lost opportunities for pleasure and enrichment those books represent, of accepting that one is a finite creature who will spend her allotted time to read with other companions.   And, of course, there’s always a certain chagrin in facing one’s mistakes . . . the “why did I buy that book” combined with the “why ever haven’t I gotten rid of it before now” moments!  Have any of you ever faced such moments of truth or had to confront such bookish vulnerabilities?  If so, how did you handle it?

Janakay, however, doesn’t want to be a weepy rain cloud here and mire us all in gloom, doom and desolation.  Honesty compels me to admit that the sorting out process does have a positive aspect.  In the broadest sense, I had to answer some very basic questions concerning why I read, as well as why I’d bother to have my very own personal library.  What purpose does it serve?  Home decor?  Self-improvement?  Laziness?  (It’s easier to let the books breed in corners than adopt them out to good homes.)  The desire to impress the neighbors with my two different translations of Rembrance of Things Past?  None of the above?

Along the same lines, I necessarily had to formulate some standards (much harder to do than you might suppose) in order to decide what to keep or to discard.  Should I, for example, toss classics by great writers such as Dostoevsky and Dickens (neither are big favorites of mine) to leave space for beloved fun reads by Georgette Heyer or Joe Abercrombie?  (If you haven’t met Logan Nine-Fingers, you should.  He’s one of the great anti-heroes of fantasy literature.)  Should I keep a book I might read at some unspecified time if it means discarding something I’ve read and loved, but which is now out of print or otherwise unavailable?  Is it better to keep an author’s “best” novel that I’ve read or her most obscure, which I haven’t?

Yes, dear reader, I’ve had a month of heavy thinking about basic aspects of reading and retaining books, activities that have occupied most of my energy since I first grasped that those little black squiggles on white paper actually meant something.  On a lighter note, it’s been a lot of fun to read or skim big chunks of things I hadn’t thought about in years and to research authors as I’ve made my decisions (electronic availability for discards was an important factor).  And, shameful though it is to admit, there’s also a Christmas morning element to the process, as I discovered some great stuff that I had totally forgotten about (that light green blob at the back of a shelf turned out to be a(n unopened) box set of Penguin Modern novellas!)

So how does Linda Grant, a British writer I admire more than I’ve read (some of her books were rather difficult “keep or toss” decisions) come into all this?  In the middle of my winnowing process I was lucky enough to stumble across her essay, “I Murdered My Library,” published as a kindle single and worth every penny of its $2.99 (U.S.) price.  Around 2013 Grant was forced to downsize her huge personal library (the product of a lifetime of reading) when she moved into a relatively small flat.  All my emotions and thoughts — the grief, the guilt, the difficulty of choosing, the (yes) relief at imposing some type of order on an overwhelming number of physical objects — are there, expressed far, far more eloquently that I ever could.  These are interspaced with Grant’s love of literature and reading, her thoughts on independent book stores and the effect of e-books on conventional print, and a great deal of humor and wry acceptance of the fact that we, as readers, are as finite as the texts that we love.  Grant’s essay is a treasure for anyone who likes to read about books; if you’re downsizing or reevaluating your own book stash, it’s a necessity.  I was so impressed by it, in short, I immediately moved two of Grant’s unread novels from my “discard” to my “keep” pile! (and, yes, I am aware of the irony of my action!).

After recounting her “crime” of book homicide, Grant ends her essay with the cry of “What have I done?”  Since it’s time for me to sign off, I’ll end my little tale by showing you a visual of my very recent response to my own act of murder  . . . . .

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My latest acquisitions! A newly published read (Evaristo’s Booker co-winner); a vintage find (Pamela Frankau, an interesting mid-century writer) and a haul of nine new books from an NYRB Classics  flash sale that I couldn’t be expected to pass up (the books were HALF-PRICE, with FREE shipping!). There’s also a wonderful Pushkin Press translation of Isolde (it’s all Kaggsy’s fault for recommending it so highly) and I have a vintage Sackville-West that I haven’t yet read on its way and . . . . . . .

What’s that old saw, about the “more things change, the more they remain the same?”

8 thoughts on “Midweek Miscellany: Percy Murdered My Library (apologies to Linda Grant!)

  1. LOL. I feel *everything* in this post as I have such a massive amount of books needing this kind of attention soon. It’s the sentimental ones which are the hardest, but I’m gradually getting there. The main problem I have is that th eprocess is so slow as I simply have to spend time evaluating each and every book – particularly the ones I *might* want to read and the ones which are just pretty. It’s certainly not easy…. 😦

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    1. Kaggsy — so nice of you to stop by, particularly as I’m behind on my blog reading and mean to pop over soon to check out your post on Philip Larkin. Without having read much of it, I love his poetry (it’s safe to say his Collected Poems will survive the upcoming purge of my poetry collection!). I just re-read his poem “The Mower” and found it as beautiful and devastating as ever.
      Re the book “re-evaluation:” I agree that the sentimental ones are indeed the hardest to deal with (the Alice In Wonderful I mentioned in my posting will survive into my final collection! Catch-22 was tossed; I’m over it!). And, yes, like you I had to handle & frequently research every book to make sure I could re-acquire a discard if I changed my mind later (it was also an act of farewell. I felt I owed them that). Can you believe I actually made a list of all the authors and most of the titles, even of things I retained? It’s one of those activities that make me think I actually have a mild obsessive-compulsive disorder.
      I hope you noticed my new copy of Isolde in my last px, you wicked thing you! One of your reviews also got me started on VSW (I’m awaiting a Virago Modern edition of Seducers in Ecuador & The Heir) . . .

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      1. Oh my goodness, you are so cute. Great for Alice, one of my favorites, and I love that you made that list, that’s what I meant it’s so cute, the way you handled this and research to know if you could easily acquire what you are discarding is so clever. I believe I do that too, and I will soon, it’s reassuring. Plus something out of print, etc, gains in value and interest and becomes worth keeping.

        I totally understand your hesitancy about reading more in translation. I (keeping up with my own untidy version of being obsessive-compulsive), will type a list of what I dream of acquiring from Madrid. Like you, I too am becoming aware of my finite reading time and I am coming to terms with many long classics that I won’t be exploring. Empowered by you, I will admit that Dickens or Eliot are not in my reading future. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s the competition I have talked about. There’s Spanish authors and other authors that I feel more drawn to.

        As for the movies… Would you believe I have seen that Daniel Day-Lewis movie? With Pfiffer, right?

        I’m going to try to watch any and all those Scorsese and I will come back to chat about them with you.

        I’m jealous of you and of Kaggsy for different reasons, hahaha. Kaggsy because of how many important authors she reads, lots of women writers, art, contemporary, essay, poetry. And her amazing library.

        You because you are bi-or tri-intelligent, all your knowledge of art, nature, history, Americana.

        But what I love most about both of you it’s that no matter how seriously intelligent you are, it’s the ordinary events and your warm style in your blog, without pretension, intimate and funny as well, that makes me love to read your blogs, and to enjoy the comments and at times your conversation.

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  2. Joining in to say that I too feel *everything* LOL in this post. I do love to go through these moments of purge, they are usually tied to changes in my life. Right now I’m impatiently waiting. Waiting for new floors upstairs, which will force me to reconsider my books. But it won’t happen soon, so I’m pondering if I should do the book purge anyways. I have many books worth some money in the homeschooling community, and not just, books we’ve read or that will be wonderful if/when my girls ever have children. But that’s a long shot, and I’m not sure whether to keep them, -even for myself-, or sell/dispose of them in some fashion, -donating is another strong call-. And then MY own library. It’s an emotionally taxing time, but it’s also needed. I love facing who I’m becoming as a reader, and what I want to keep and part with, -even if I have the space, I need to do that evaluation. (I have cheap paper copies of classics I don’t see myself reading in that format, -if I read them at all). I also have my sister and her boyfriend coming this summer, and I totally think that, at this time in life, I deserve to order me books in Spanish from sellers in Madrid that they can positively bring to me. Online orders and local buying is something I’ll always do, and I feel that before that I need to do that purge.

    I’m probably getting that kindle book on books for starters. And I do feel guilty. I want to try the other title of the two that you gave me. I’m feeling better at the moment, stronger emotionally -after two hard months-, and the two books you gifted me are truly beautiful. Even if I don’t read them yet, I can assure you they are not leaving my shelves.

    Kaggsy also spoke highly of Philip Larkin, and I put a book of his poetry on hold. I’m looking forward to that one.

    And THANKS for your generosity with the pictures. I’ve enjoyed them all. I too should take pics for my next post. It’s always so nice to see. Books and cats, and your chat. Life is so good!

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  3. I forgot to mention how much I also appreciate your movie recommendations. I’m a fan of Scorsese. I used to watch great movies. My friend let me borrow the latest of Malick’s movies and I haven’t watched it yet. I want to come back to watching good movies, but right now we have one TV that my youngest has appropriated for her room, and only a Netflix subscription. Movie theaters only show whatever is on at the time for the main public. I need to correct this situation 🙂 I have a Kanopy account, and maybe there’s still something worth watching on Netflix or Kanopy, I’m sure!

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  4. Silvia! Delightful to hear from you and to catch up a little. I noticed you have a new posting, which I’m saving for (probably) tomorow, as I want to enjoy it and am feeling a little frazzled right now (it doesn’t take much, these days. I don’t know how you manage so well, with a family, an active reading life AND a job. A woman of iron!).

    Your attitude towards book purges is incredibly healthy and I just wish I had it myself; I find it incredibly difficult to send my books into the blue! Gifting is different, it’s not painful at all. Hence I was delighted that you wanted the two books I sent you (saved me from making more notations on my 20 page list of discards!). And, as I said, please don’t feel you have to read either, or that they’re permanently attached to your shelves. If you don’t like, or aren’t in the mood — just pass them along! One nice “Christmas morning” surprise in emptying my book shelves BTW was my discovery of two more Stewart O’Nan novels, which just happened to be the ones I most wanted to read. LOL, right?

    Don’t you just love movies? I really like Scorsese, although I’m certainly not an expert and haven’t seen many of his films. My favorite is “Goodfellas.” Did you know he also filmed Wharton’s “Age of Innocence” with Daniel Day-Lewis? I saw it many years ago; not sure if it altogether worked but it was definitely worth watching. If you’re interested in The Lighthouse, don’t let my negative reaction keep you away. Many critics really liked it and, even though it didn’t work for me, I did find it visually very arresting. Parasite is great, even if a bit over long; very clever, very funny and some pretty pointed social criticism. If you like clever murder mysteries in the Agatha Christie vein you’ll probably like “Knives Out.” I thought it was a nice way to spend a dull afternoon, but perhaps a little overrated.

    I’m so envious of your ability to read in two languages! What’s on your list to get from Madrid? I’m trying to read more translated literature, but I always feel that I’m missing something by being unable to read in the language in which it was originally written. The Challenges I’ve participated in this year have actually been very good in prodding me to take on some none-English authors, which is great. I just finished Zama, by Antonio di Benedetto for the Classics Challenge. According to the NYRB Classics folks, he’s one of Argentina’s greats but is little known here because his work hasn’t been widely translated. It was an interesting read, very surreal, very existential; although I wasn’t altogether sure what was going on at times I found it quite haunting. If life were longer, I’d probably start over and re-read it (it’s quite brief) but . . . as I said in my post, I’m becoming increasing conscious of the fact that my reading time isn’t infinite. Perhaps that’s why I’m turning a little more these days to the classics and attempting, with only mixed success, to resume reading at least a little poetry.

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    1. Woman of iron… That what they called Margaret Thatcher, didn’t they?

      My job is only subbing, and it usually allows me to read much of the time.

      Next week I took an assignment for the whole week in detention in campus. I love it. The students there can’t use their phones. None of us can leave the room without being scorted. They are sent with some books of papers. They usually sleep or lay down their heads, or work some. I, guess what?, I read. I’m looking forward to “my punishment”, hahaha.

      I don’t say this to make you feel better, I feel frazzled very often. There’s times when I am uncomfortable about the many things requiring my attention. But I too save my notifications and nice catching up for that moment at night so I can savor it.

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