Sorting Out the Books

I’m sorting out the books; we have too many. We like books, both to read and to be surrounded by, but the house isn’t large and we have accumulated a lot of clutter over the years.   We have had a big general clear-out, but the books can no longer be ignored. They must make their sacrifices too, there must be a cull.

There are books all over the house. In every room there is a bookcase, even in the bathrooms. There is no real order to them – size seems to be the main organisational criterion, which isn’t much help, and a vague similarity of subject, but only sometimes. Large shelves call for large books, and small ones… well, you get the picture. There’s a lot of fiction, but they are mostly non-fiction.

I visit each book shelf systematically to see what I can bear to throw out. The task is daunting. There are books on Gardening (how to, as well as who did), self sufficiency and sustainability, nature and wildlife (invertebrates, birds, ponds); a healthy collection of scientific and vintage flora (books to identify plants); maps, atlases and guide books; popular and specific science (Dawkins, Darwin, Hawkin, Sagan, evolution, ecology, geology, geography, genetics, chemistry, biology, chaos, physics, cosmology, astronomy). A Basic Course In Statistics and three other stats books. Stable Isotopes – a relic from my not-completed PhD.

A selection of large and small antique books chosen for the beauty of their covers, including a spectacular, thick, leather-bound volume called Modern Industrial Chemistry; dictionaries, thesauri and quotations; DIY manuals, car manuals (never used); British history, European history, American history, the War(s), The Mafia, Fin de Siècle, Economic history, Capitalism, Money, Politics, Lies, damned lies and more lies, selling and manipulation (sorry marketing), psychology, sociology.

There’s Poetry (mostly humorous – John Hegley, Murray Lachlan Young, Ogden Nash). There are books about the body, bits of the body, books about what happens to the body when it’s dead. A range of booklets and pamphlets from what seems to be every parish church and cathedral in the country inherited from a favoured uncle. Brass Rubbing, Opera and Maria Callas, favourites of my mother before she lost her memory to Alzheimer’s.

The aforementioned bathrooms tend to hold books like Halliwell’s Film Guides (various years), funnies, amusing cats, cartoons, Mornington Crescent and the Meaning of Liff, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Free.

There are random biographies: John Sergeant, Andy Murray, Carrie Fisher, Julian Cope, Bill Hicks, Tori Amos, Steve Jobs… I didn’t think we ‘did’ biographies – I counted 16.

Books about getting your spelling, grammar and punctuation wrong, and how appalling that is; books about spelling, grammar and punctuation, getting it wrong doesn’t matter – it changes all the time.

Then there are the obligatory Cookery books, mostly Jamie and Hugh, with some by Nigel. Many, many books on how to make whole manner of things: soap, beer, jewellery, paper, clothes, furniture, wooden things, metal things, recycled things, embroidery, decorating.

Beautiful, smelly old books, hilariously out of date.

Oh, Lord! The self-help books and medical types, for help and advice on an assortment of things – asthma, panic, depression, Alzheimer’s, thyroid, nutrition, exercise (very dusty, these), HRT, no-HRT, confidence, personality disorders (!), worrying and fear! The endless search for truth and self-discovery!

Books about being creative, being yourself, getting on with your life, getting things done, about writing and publishing. Books about how the fuck do you choose what you want to do with your life, never mind actually doing it. A book about Fonts.

Books about music, maths and computing languages. Books on how to build all sorts of things technical. On how to build your own eco-home, clean it greenly and live in it off-grid.

Random books about words and meanings, and statistics about crazy stuff; hundreds of tiny penguin books: Great Loves, Great journeys, Great Ideas. Great books.

There are huge beautiful art books – Klimt, Man Ray, Rothko, Beardsley, Goldsworthy, De Stijl, Mackintosh, Lalique. Beautiful coffee-table books about the planet, rocks and stones, geological formations, natural patterns, beetles, books with electron micrographs. And some of them are HUGE. The art books are massive, on the whole, but The Times History of the World, must be 18 inches high and weighs at least 3 tonnes.

The fiction includes the national collection of Fay Weldon books, fantasy in the form of multiple editions of the Lord of the Rings and its associated brethren; fairy tales, faerie tales, scary tales, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. There’s Tove Jansson, Alexei Sayle, Beryl Bainbridge, Margaret Atwood, Iain Banks, Ian Rankin, Ian McEwan; all the crime drama in the world, loads of thrillers. There are a few short story collections, and a few classics – Flaubert, Joyce, Woolf, Homer, Huxley, Shakespeare, the Brontes. Much-read books and un-read books.

Simone de Beauvoir’s tome, The Second Sex, is there, which I don’t suppose I’ll ever read completely I but like it being on the shelf, alongside Germaine and Lynne Segal.

There are a few signed copies (Mark Thomas, John Hegley, Richard Dawkins). Books on Glastonbury Festival, rock climbing, heroes, and two copies of Stupid White Men. Earnest books on how to play piano, guitar, cards, tennis.

And not forgetting sentimental keeps from childhood, Pookie-The Rabbit With Wings; the Moomins and Winnie The Pooh.

Then there are the trade and product catalogues, for lovely consumer goods; the glossy, gorgeous magazines selling dreams, the pile of unread (not yet read) newspapers. And the millions of note-books, sketchbooks and diaries for all the writing, drawing and recording!

And all this doesn’t even touch upon what we have as audio-books and e-books; at least that growing pile doesn’t take up any room.

So, how many books did I manage to clear out?  Were hundreds of volumes removed, allowing light and air to stream in and around?  No.  Nine.  Nine books. Nine books are all I can live without.  And as I will bundle them up to take to the charity shop, I know in my heart that I will not return empty-handed.  Then we’ll be back to square one, and we’ll have to cull the books.

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