by James Wallace Harris, 7/21/22
Each morning before I get out of bed I plan to do something with my day. It’s never very ambitious because of health problems, lack of discipline, and laziness. And things seldom go according to plan. Today I decided to donate ten books to the library bookstore. That impulse came from getting a new toy. I feel like Jerry Pournelle in his old columns for Byte magazine called “Chaos Manor.” In those columns, Jerry would get a new computer which would cause a cascading series of problems. I got a new little tube amp, a cheap one, to set up a better stereo system in my bedroom. That single act has caused a domino-falling cascade of problems to fix.
The only place I have to put a stereo in my bedroom is on top of two bookcases. That’s okay if I don’t care about sound quality, but this new little tube amp sounds great — if the speakers are at ear level — but sounds like crap next to the ceiling. For me to solve this problem, will require moving two Ikea Billy bookcases and replacing them with a piece of furniture 72 inches wide and roughly 24-30 inches high.
“Ah-ha!” you might be thinking. “He’s finally getting to the part about going to the bookstore.”
Well, not quite. This is going to be a long story about getting old and how my aging mind and body affect my decision-making at seventy.
The quick and easy solution to my problem was to go into the dining room which we’ve converted into a gym and take the TV credenza and put it in the bedroom in front of the bookcases. That left the TV on the floor for now, but I had to give up exercising when my back went out a few weeks ago, so I can worry about it later. Since I’ve become semi-invalid the easiest solutions are the ones that work with the least effort.
If Susan and I had had the foresight to have children we could have gotten them to move the bookcases into the dining room, left the TV on the credenza, and then sent those kids to Ikea to get a cabinet for the stereo. Unfortunately, back in the early 1980s, we didn’t anticipate this need.
My back has gotten somewhat better. I can do a little lifting. I don’t want to do too much because I might screw it up again. I figured I could unload a shelf or two each day in stacks on the floor. There are two cases with six shelves each. You do the math. I could put slides under the cases and push them into the dining room, and then reverse the process of loading them back up. Ikea also offers delivery and assembly for a fee. Thus, without offspring, and if I’m patient, I can get the job done in a week or two depending if Ikea can deliver that quickly.
But is this the best long-term solution? Susan has long complained that she doesn’t want to deal with all my books after I depart this world — whenever that might be. I keep telling her she can just call Salvation Army or a book buyer, but maybe all those books are my responsibility?
This morning I decided I would start going through my books and weed out enough to empty two bookcases. I figured I could carry ten or twelve books to the library bookstore each week and eventually, I’ll donate two bookcases worth of books. So after doing my spinal stenosis physical therapy exercises I pulled the first book off the shelf I thought might be the first of ten I would part with today. It was The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan.
I opened it up to a random page and started reading. Whoops. There went my plan. Maeve wrote lovely little essays about living in New York City for The New Yorker. The first one I read was about seeing a young woman collapse on the street outside her restaurant window. The next was about an evening walk to see a farmhouse that had been moved from downtown to Greenwich Village. I bought this book after seeing a documentary, I think on HBO, about another writer who met Brennan before she died. That writer had discovered Maeve on the street after she had become homeless. I’d like to see that documentary again, but I can’t remember its title.
I’m afraid every book I pulled off the shelf had a story behind it, one that made me want to keep it. I have more books than I could read in another dozen lifetimes. It might take me years to find and decide which books I could give away that would free up two bookcases full of books.
That left me so despondent that I went to the library bookstore and bought five more books.
The other night Janis and I were jabbering on the phone about all the hoarders we know. We felt horror at what has befallen our friends. Now I need to worry if that affliction needs to be added to my recognized list of afflictions.
13 thoughts on “To Go, or Not to Go — To the Bookstore?”
Apparently it’s true that as we age, our ability to make decisions gets weaker. Also our ability to focus. (Don’t panic –we have other qualities.) Doris Carnevali in her blog Engaging With Aging dealt with the problem this way: she reduces her options so that she does not have an infinite number of choices, but only three or four. I’m guessing the number of books you have by now is approaching infinity?
I don’t have that many. Probably less than a thousand physical books. They are books I want to read and bought them thinking I’d read them in my retirement years. On average, I read 52 books a year – one a week. However, I read books for book clubs and because friends recommend them and so I end up buying many new books during the year too. And I have many Kindle and Audible books waiting to be read or listened to. I should stop buying them. And if I was realistic, I’d know which ones I own now that I probably won’t read. My real problem is I love buying books, and it’s unrelated to my reading habits.
That all seems perfectly reasonable. I like books to flow through my home. One in, one out.
I respect everyone’s choices regarding books, etc., and I already have far too many books at my age (58), but as long as I buy any books at all, I intend to continue buying them either at Vancouver’s remaining second-hand bookstores, Vancouver’s specialty SFF/mystery bookstore (White Dwarf/Dead Write), library sales, or thrift stores. Places like these have been part of my book world all my life, and were they to disappear, my cultural life would be greatly impoverished.
Carl, nearly all the books I have now are bought at my friends of the library bookstore. I love shopping for books and I allow myself to buy them at the library bookstore because they are so cheap. It gives me an outing every week.
I love buying books at such places for all these reasons. By contrast, I’ve never been a fan of Chapters-Indigo (the Canadian equivalent of Barnes & Noble or Borders). It has no character–the equivalent of Home Hardware or Walmart.
If you wouldn´t want to reread the book someday, out it goes. Works for me when I need to clear shelf space. Fond memories or a story to it ain´t enough…
I normally give away books I’ve read. I do keep those I plan to reread. And I keep nonfiction books I want for reference. I have given away between one to two thousand books over my lifetime, so I’m not a complete hoarder. Most of the books I have no are ones I haven’t read that I bought for my retirement reading.
But I was thinking of giving away any book I have on Kindle. Either the ones I want to reread or the ones I haven’t read yet. Over the years I’ve come to prefer reading on the Kindle and I’ve picked up a second copy of some books when they were on sale on Amazon for $1.99. I’ve kept hard copies because I like flipping through them. Kindle books are terrible for flipping through. But maybe I could overcome that need.
What I really want to do is get realistic about what I will read. I’ve been buying these books for decades and I believe my interests have changed and there’s probably plenty I could ditch if I gave them some thought.
The Kindle seems the way to go.
What % of the paper books you buy you end up reading?
That’s my problem. I’m reading paper books less and less. I might read 1 out of 10 used books I buy for fun. I probably read most of the new books I buy in paper format.
This is also true for Kindle. I’m more likely to read a full price Kindle book than a sale priced Kindle edition.
The way for me to spend on books is to pay full new price for those books I’m going to read right away. I spend my most money on unread books when I buy bargain new or cheap used.
Like you, I don’t want to burden my wife (or my children) with disposing of my massive book collection. So I’m slowly weeding my collection and either donating the books to my local Library for their Book Sale or giving the books to the local used books store. My criteria is simple. Will I ever read or refer to the book again? If the answer is “No” the book goes into the Donation box. If the answer is “Yes” the book gets to stay on the shelf. If I live 20 more years, I feel this process will reduce my book collection to a manageable size.
I should be doing more of that George. Over the years I have donated boxes and boxes of books to the Friends of the Library. I’m thinking now about donating books to a local used bookstore instead. I’ve gotten rid of most of the books I’ve read. My pile is mostly unread, and whenever I pull one out thinking “Oh, I’ll probably never read this one,” I’ll start reading it and discover, “Yes, I still do.”