Basement shelves, mostly alphabetized
So in my slow and never-ending quest to declutter the basement, this morning I looked at the bookshelves. The bookshelves are a problem I have been sort of avoiding for the last few weeks, instead hauling away old dishes and coats and outdated household appliances. But the basement would not be cluttered, really, if not for the books: We don't have a whole lot of junk, but we do have seven or maybe eight bookshelves down there, each one crammed full.
Last weekend I weeded out some of the old travel guides--although not all of them, mind you. I couldn't get rid of guides to places we love (Montreal, Pittsburgh, Ireland, Paris) but I figured it was OK to get rid of the outdated guides to places we never quite made it to (Brussels, Madrid) and places we might not be going back to any time soon (Albuquerque).
This morning I got a little bolder: My back issues of Granta magazine went into sacks for donation. (Please don't tell John Freeman, though these predate his time as editor.) That freed up a shelf and a half. And then I vowed I would not stop until I found at least one book from each shelf to give away. I found three before I stopped, hungry, ready for breakfast, guilty about not yet walking Riley, who will not soil his play space in the yard and so needs to be taken for a stroll. (I will, I will, as soon as I finish my oatmeal.)
More shelves, in no particular order.
I only made it through two shelves, because I got, well, delayed. I started browsing--yes, browsing my own shelves. I know essentially what's in the basement--all of the Soviet history books I read when I was working on "They Took My Father," and the well-loved books from my childhood, and fiction O-Z (fiction A-F is in the dining room, and G-N is in the front hallway), and lots of hodgepodge stuff that I brought home in the years after alphabetizing and so is just piled in stacks or shoved out of place onto random shelves.
And so one forgets, exactly, what one has. And browsing one's own shelves becomes much like browsing at the library, or in a good little indie bookstore--you come across all kinds of stuff you had never heard of (though when it's your own shelves you had heard of it at one time, of course, because you somehow acquired it).
So while I was able to winnow down a few books (mostly unpublished Advance Readers' Copies, which I threw away), the bigger result of browsing my own shelves was this: I found a bunch of books I wanted to read. I brought two of them upstairs, into the light, and added them to the tall stacks of to-read books that are in the dining room--stacks that I had hoped I would bring into the basement and put on the cleared-out shelves.
There is something wrong with this picture, isn't there? (For the curious, I brought up "Eight Months on Ghazzah Street," by Hilary Mantel, she of the Booker Prize-winning "Wolf Hall," which is in my dining room; and "Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America," by Laura Wexler, which probably won't be fun reading but which seems to me something I ought to know about.)
Gotta get these off the basement floor before winter... or at least before spring
I wonder if this crush of books--though I've always lived with it--might have something to do with the difficulties I've had writing this summer. Because of my job, I read all the time, and I am acutely aware of the enormous number of books published every month--every week--and how deserving and remarkable so many of them are, and yet how very few of them will ever get noted in any significant way, and a part of me wonders, "Does the world really need one more book by me?"
This post is not meant to provoke an outpouring of praise or reassurance; it's just something I've been thinking about a lot. And the conclusion I'm coming to is: The world almost certainly doesn't need it, but that doesn't mean that I don't. Who do I write for, anyway? The world? Or that part of me that pushes and pushes and says, "I am a storyteller; I must tell stories"?
I think you know the answer. (If I thought I was writing for the world I would either be delusional or would feel a disappointed failure.) I think I am getting to the end of this fallow period. I think I am already working on this next book in my head and the next slow step will be to begin to write it down. And if it is published and if it eventually ends up in somebody's basement, a burden, gathering dust, well, welcome to the club, I say.
And now Riley is giving me the tragic intense sad eyed look, and so off we go. The basement will wait.
But I am making progress.