The mistakes of culling books

© 2013 Sue Farrell HollerLike a good, and perhaps claustrophobic, librarian, I worked to cull my bookshelves.  The goal was to tidy, straighten and organize, to make them look like something a set designer from a decorating magazine would appreciate.

Books had accumulated like the flakes of skin we shed each day:  Books I hadn’t read; books I read but hated;  books I loved;  signed books written by friends and acquaintances; a special hoard of children’s books that I allowed children to read only with direct supervision; and books for which I had no memory whatsoever.

I started with an empty box.

“Aha!” I said, spying my first victim in the top right-hand corner of the top shelf.

“Uh, this book,” I said.  I couldn’t wait to get rid of this book.  It was one I had read years earlier during my “Holocaust” phase. It had the look of an early self-published product.   I knew I’d never read it again, but before I chucked it, I opened it randomly, and started reading.

Mistake #1:  Do not read the books you are going to toss. 

It was a compelling first-person account of someone who had survived Auschwitz.  I waffled.  Rather than into the “give away” box, it went on a spot on the floor that was a “Don’t put back on the bookshelf yet.  Read again before you toss.”

I hummed, I perused spines, I remembered stories and characters and authors.  I dusted.  I straightened the snapshots of my kids.  I hummed some more.

“Aha!”  A weird book that I’d hated.  Into the box.  No second thoughts.  I remembered this book; I had hated every second of reading it.

I hummed as my fingers walked the book spines.  “Oh, this book!” I said aloud.  It had been recommended years ago by a friend.  I didn’t make it past the preface.  Into the box.

Out of the box:  What was it about anyway?  Hmmm, it doesn’t sound that bad.  And, can I throw out a brand new book that no one has read more than ten pages?  Into the “Read before you toss” pile.

Mistake #2:  Never worry about how much you paid for a book.  A terrible book is a terrible book.

Another unread book with an interesting cover.  “Uck.  This was truly awful.  I never made it past page 20, but I repeated Mistake #1.  I read the opening line.  Not bad.  Maybe I would read it after all.  Maybe I just hadn’t been ready for it before.  Onto the “Read before you toss” pile.

Have you been keeping a tally?  So far, one book in the “toss box”; three in the “read again” pile.

I intended to at least remove and dust each book on the shelf, but when I came across a long-forgotten  book from my childhood, I opened the yellowed pagesn curiosity and started reading.  It was about an obstinate, egotistical talking horse who adopted a boy.  It was funny and it was brilliant, and I was eight-years-old again.

I clutched it to my chest like a newborn when my husband came home.  “What are you doing?” he asked, looking at me sitting dazed and cross-legged on the floor surrounded by books.

“Oh,” I said, putting the vintage “Casey, the Utterly Impossible Horse” on the top of the shelf and patting it gently.  “Just putting away a few books.”

I stacked and wedged the books on the shelf in an even bigger jumble than they had been.  I had a book that needed attention, and seriously, when is the last time a photographer came to the door wanting to take pictures of my bookshelves?

© 2013 Sue Farrell Holler


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