Thursday, July 13, 2017

Reading Material Triage

Do you keep all the books you buy? I've heard of some people who go to the opposite extreme and give away almost every book as soon as they've read it. Shudder—I would never think of doing that. For one thing, I often reread, and even if I don't think I'll want to reread a given book, I might change my mind later. Moreover, I've owned books (or individual stories within anthologies) that I didn't finish when they were new but returned to later. Also, as a lit-crit person (even though I haven't done much nonfiction writing lately), I never know what I might need to refer to in the future. Then there are readers who keep and discard selectively. They might hang onto a core collection of especially valued items and give away or donate most other books. Some people weed out their hard-copy collections and replace favorite works with e-books.

Once, while my husband was in the Navy, he and I attended a party at the home of another naval officer. As I wandered from room to room in the public areas—everywhere except bedrooms—I started to wonder, "Where are all their books?" This man was a college graduate; that's a prerequisite for being an officer. I assume his wife was, too. Yet I did not see a single book. This happened long before e-books, so they couldn't have been paperless purists as some readers are nowadays. (Another attitude completely alien to me. I buy e-books from time to time, mainly when the item isn't available in print or is MUCH cheaper in electronic format, but I love my hard-copy books and enjoy accumulating them. No worries about the battery charge running out! Much easier to flip to a page I want to reread!)

I belong to the "keeper" school of thought. I never get rid of books. We owned a couple of thousand, almost all paperbacks, when my husband joined the Navy in 1971. The number has multiplied several times over since then. During our Navy moves, we culled small items and sometimes furniture. We never discarded a book, though. Somehow, our personal property shipments never ran over the weight limit. Now that we've lived in one house for over twenty years without a move, there hasn't been any pressure to get rid of anything. (Which, admittedly, can generate a storage problem with objects other than books.)

And what about magazines? Do you throw them into the recycling bin after reading? Some publications, the very ephemeral ones, I do. Others, I keep for a few months, occasionally clearing out the backlog. As for magazines with articles that merit rereading, such as NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and LOCUS, and those that are effectively story anthologies in periodical format, e.g., THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, I keep them permanently. I cringe at tossing any publication other than a community freebie, because it seems disrespectful of the effort and expense that went into producing the materials. Yet on one level I realize that's illogical, so I have reluctantly started discarding some magazines. As for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, my husband has been prodding me for decades to dispose of the accumulated stacks. I will probably succumb, to the extent of sorting out the issues I really want and giving up the rest.

What brought on the printed-material triage crisis was our basement renovation project. The damaged ceiling and torn, mold-stained carpet are being replaced. The cinderblock-and-board shelves in the middle of the den have been dismantled. The tall bookcases against the wall have been temporarily staged elsewhere. They'll be restored to their places after the refurbishing is finished. Rows of new bookcases—twenty-four of them—will be set up in the center of the room. At last I'll have the real "library" I've always fantasized about. Meanwhile, all the basement books have been packed into boxes and stashed in a rented storage container in the driveway. Approximately 120 boxes. And those aren't all our books. We have a bedroom full of others downstairs, plus my entire vampire collection in the upstairs office as well as shelves full in the living room, our bedroom, and an alcove in the rear of the workshop.

I look forward to the only pleasurable part of this drawn-out ordeal, re-shelving the books in rational order instead of cramming them anywhere they'll fit as we've had to do in recent years. For the first time in forever, I'll be able to zero in quickly and efficiently on items I'm looking for (no more caving in to desperation and ordering a used copy of a novel I know I own but can't find). I'm the kind of person who'd probably drive professional organizers crazy. My idea of organizing isn't getting rid of stuff. It's finding more efficient ways to store more stuff.

How do you handle your accumulated books and periodicals?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

No comments:

Post a Comment