Tuesday, October 30, 2012


owned by my books

Oh, books about books.  I sorted through them and packed up a few more cartons over the weekend.  Do I really need half a shelf of old reports from the Pierpont Morgan Library?  No, I do not.  Do I need duplicate copies of books about books in hardcover and softcover?  No, I do not  Do I need to keep most of my books about books?  Apparently, yes.  Yes, I do.  For when I sifted through them all, so many tugged at my heartstrings in no uncertain terms, and demanded attention and care.  And re-reading.  Thus, after cleaning out, I am still faced with a seven-foot-high bookcase full of books about books.  From top to bottom, it contains books about typography, printing history, and fine presses, then on to publishers' memoirs, booksellers' memoirs, books about running bookshops, books about reading, books about libraries and librarians, and books about collecting and collectors. And some books about book-related ephemera, primarily bookplates and booksellers' tickets.  Also a few books about fine or historic bindings.  And some bibliographies.  Of course these do not all fit into this one big bookcase, most do, but they necessarily spill over into adjoining ones.  Maybe 300 books in total, not a huge collection on this topic, for a bookseller.  Right...?

After facing the wall of books about books, I took a second look at everything else and managed to make a rough count of books in the book room and those remaining in other locations around the house, to see if  I could come up with a number.  Estimating how many books per shelf, how many shelves per bookcase, I arrived at 2500, give or take (again, umm, not an outrageous number, for a booklover...?).  Since I have already packed up and taken away over 500 books, this means I've cut my library by a sixth.  Not exactly the half I was hoping for, or even the third I optimistically anticipated.  C'est la vie.  I see that I still do not own my books.  They own me.

But, these are minor issues in the grand scheme of things.  Which is to say, glancingly, that I feel profoundly grateful and lucky to be able to contemplate and engage in these gentle life preoccupations (books and reading, bookselling, also painting) while so much tumult swirls around, both literally via Hurricane Sandy, and figuratively via the upcoming election (I am searching for a pertinent metaphor and can only come up with the hackneyed but apt hot air).  I hope we all weathered the storm safely, and I also hope that we will all get out and vote next week, to change this turbulent climate, political and otherwise.  

I understand. While my collection only comes to slightly over 1600, I am occasionally forced to cull the weak from the herd and make space for the strong. Then when the next bookcase is made room for I always think back to one or two volumes and regret letting them go. How you ever could have imagined reducing by half is beyond me. I know if my library is reduced by half it will be done by my heirs. They will scratch their heads and maybe say unkind things about me but so be it.
Hi Steve - I'm not sure why I thought I could reduce my books by half. I think after reading that Byron gave up *all* of his books (then again, he was forced to, by his creditors) I somehow thought that half, surely, would be attainable. Instead, I am left standing in front of the shelves, muttering, "No, not that one, nope, not that one either, no, must keep Tintin, still haven't finished reading Proust so those should stay, boy these books about hobos are even better than I remembered, gosh I love my books..." etc. Sigh.
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