Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thinning the herd

Jack and I owned a few thousand books, some of them rather obscure and wonderful. Husband and wife looked each other in the eye and swore it went downstairs to the shop if: we had owned it more than three years but not read it; if we had read it but never reread it (even if we intended to someday); or if we'd never used it in research.
Wendy Welch, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

I continue to acquire books at a faster rate than I can read them. Even so, I realize I am approaching that time of life when it becomes necessary, for the sake of heirs if not for the sake simplifying one's life, to start getting rid of things, books included. But how does one decide which books to part with?

Wendy Welch
So I was interested in how Wendy Welch and her husband approached a different, yet similar, problem. They wanted to open a used book store in their home in Big Stone Gap, Va., but they had little money to acquire inventory. That meant sacrificing some of their own books to the cause. Here is the criteria they used in making their choices:

1. Books owned more than three years but never read.

This wouldn't work for me. Just because I've owned a book for more than three years, or more than 10 years, without reading it, doesn't mean I'll never read it. I normally prefer to allow books to age on the shelf for a few years, like wine, before opening them. A few days ago I started reading The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King, which was published in 1994 and which I have owned for a number of years. I'm certainly glad I didn't toss it out after three years.

2. Books read but never reread.

This wouldn't work either. I try to reread a few old favorites. Last year I revisited Deliverance and Franny and Zooey, among others. But just because you don't reread a book, or haven't done so yet, doesn't make it expendable. Books, especially those we love, are worth keeping for the memories they stir when we see them on the shelf.

3. Books never used in research.

Welch, besides running a bookstore, teaches at a university. Her husband, Jack Beck, leads tours to Scotland. Some of their books are vital for their work. Most of us don't do research as such, but we may consult a dictionary, cookbook or other reference book from time to time. I write about books in this blog and review usually one book a month for LibraryThing, and I frequently make reference to other books I have read. Almost every book I own could conceivably be used "in research" at some point.

So what criteria will I use when it becomes necessary to use it? Books I didn't particularly care for will go before the books I loved. I am more eager to read or reread some books than others. The latter will be the first in the box. A few of my first editions may actually have some value to collectors. I may be willing to part with some of them just to put a little money in my pocket.

Clearly I am not yet as ruthless as Wendy and Jack. Maybe in a few more years.

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