9.27.2015

the great weed of 2015?

You will not be surprised to learn that Allan and I own a lot of books. And CDs. And even LPs! Many, many hundreds of each. We have culled our collection a bit over the years, out of necessity, but living in houses for the past 10 years, we expanded again without much thought.

Now here we are in an apartment. It's a large apartment, to be sure, but we no longer have extra rooms where we can stash as much stuff as we like. And neither of us wants to fill up every inch of wall and floor space with books and music. 
 
Thus we are contemplating weeding our own library. And this is very strange. 

Books are us. Or are they?

When I was in my 20s, I wanted to own every book I'd ever read. I was one of those people who believed that my personal library was a statement about myself. I needed to proudly display my politics and my tastes through my bookshelves and records. I loved seeing other people's libraries, and loved when people perused mine. I can recall that when we found ourselves in the home of a new friend, we would soon be looking through their books and music.

For many years, we loved amassing as large a music collection as we possibly could. Allan wrote about music, and we were inundated by freebies. At the time it seemed like the coolest thing in the world. Music would just appear! On our doorstep! For free! Eventually the piles and piles of CDs irritated me. But still, free music! 

We both still drool over huge, beautiful libraries. When we watched "It Might Get Loud," we had to pause to stare in wonder at Jimmy Page's gorgeous music collection on what must be custom-made shelves. 

Now we're talking about weeding our CDs by as much as half. Allan has a huge amount of digital music, but we both recognize we listen to only a small fraction of what we own. 

Do as the digital natives do?

The whole concept of a library being a personal statement has been erased by the digital age. Most people under a certain age have never owned a physical medium of music. The sharing ethos of the internet has led to things like BookCrossing, BookMooch, Read It Foward, and Little Free Libraries.  

How this affects writers and musicians is another story, and a sad one. But somehow all these readers and listeners manage to form their identities and communicate their points of view without owning a whole bunch of stuff that sits on a whole bunch of shelves. 

I don't know if this is a function of working in a library and having ready access to so many books, or just a general change in my desires. I was much more materialistic when I was younger. But I don't know what's driving this urge to purge.

Here, a minimalist writes about breaking the sentimental attachment we feel towards our books. I'm not sure I'm ready for that. But it suddenly doesn't seem as important to have all these books. 

10 comments:

allan said...

I need to move slowly.

deang said...

I too have tons of books - 25 boxes worth, even after purging, and I still can't bear to part with most of them. I stopped displaying most of them long ago, not because of technology but because I didn't want just anyone to be able to see what I read (I live in a very right-wing area and have never forgotten Angela Davis's story of how an apartment neighbor reported her to the police as "suspicious" because of the contents of her apartment). I do have a list of all the books I would part with should it be necessary, so I am ready to quickly reduce them if it comes down to that.

There is an excellent local library service here called Recycled Reads that people can take old books to and library staff will try to sell it online or at their store or add it to city collections. Any money they make off donated books goes to the library, but any they can't sell get "pulped," which they promote as environmentally sound but which basically means they're made into cushion-stuffing or something, which bothers me, especially since I know from personal research projects that there were tons of publications from the nineteenth century that just weren't preserved at all, resulting in a lot of lost information. So my 25 boxes of books still sit in a storage room.

I also have tons of LPs and was encouraged a few years ago when my teenage niece bought a vintage record player, but it turned out she just wanted it for retro d├ęcor, wasn't interested in any but one album or two that she bought for appearance sake.

laura k said...

If/when we weed, we'll take books to our library system's Friends of the Library, the volunteer organization that runs the used book sales. Money raised from book sales pays for great stuff, like authors visits (authors' fees, plus transportation for school groups to attend), and other extras outside of the regular budget.

There is also First Book Canada and Better World Books.

especially since I know from personal research projects that there were tons of publications from the nineteenth century that just weren't preserved at all, resulting in a lot of lost information.

This is a common complaint about libraries. You may have read the Nicholson Baker essay years back about the destroyed or badly preserved newspapers?

Many of these publications might have been excellent, but where and how was the library supposed to preserve them? That requires resources, and libraries are not equipped to serve as archives.

Customers bring in old textbooks, outdated encyclopedias, all kinds of materials that no one wants, and then are offended when we don't want them. Recent books or classics in good condition? Great way to raise cash. Mouldy encyclopedias from the 70s? We are not your dumping ground.

Amy said...

Good luck with the weeding. I thought I'd done a great job doing that when we moved six years ago. I donated hundreds of books to the library and the Salvation Army. And yet...the single largest component of our belongings after we moved in terms of weight were the boxes of books that I kept. Most are on bookshelves in our spare bedrooms, where I rarely even go. The most loved ones are in our bedroom or in our office.

I am moving out of my office at work. I didn't take one law book, but I have eight boxes of papers----class notes, work related memos and briefs from practice over 30 years ago, law school notes. WHY am I keeping all that crap?

Good thing we have a large basement....

laura k said...

So why are you keeping that crap? Why not chuck it all in recycling?

We are definitely not going paper-free anytime soon. But I really looking forward to weeding the books and the music. I want uncluttered space more than I want the display.

laura k said...

Well, at least that's how I feel today. :)

Amy said...

Why am I keeping it? A colleague explained it this way. If we were carpenters, we'd always have the house we built to look at and say, "I did that." As lawyers/law professors, the paper we produced is the only physical evidence we have that we ever did anything.

Sometimes it does feel like my 30+ years of working amounted to eight boxes of paper. I know that's not true, but at least the eight boxes remind me that I did do something. Eventually they will get moldy and yellow and frayed, and someday my kids will curse me for keeping them because they will, of course, toss them away. But for now? I am not ready yet.

We definitely went with uncluttered over display in our new house, yet...we have all the books hidden in the non-public rooms. As for music, we have a box of LPs in the basement and a shelf of CDs. We were never much into acquiring music, always content to listen to the radio or replay what we had.

laura k said...

If we were carpenters, we'd always have the house we built to look at and say, "I did that." As lawyers/law professors, the paper we produced is the only physical evidence we have that we ever did anything.

Sounds to me like a rationalization for hoarding. In the contemporary/first world, most people have no physical evidence of their work, certainly few professionals.

But I do understand not getting rid of something until you're ready to. I recently cleared out two file drawers of research from former writing projects. I'll never write professionally again, and even if I did, that research would be totally useless.

But I hung onto it, because I didn't need the space and I wasn't ready to say goodbye to that part of myself. Recently I needed the file drawer space for other things, so I tossed all the old research

Although I should add that "needed the space" is relative. Someone else might have gotten another file cabinet or put the research in boxes.

Amy said...

That's both the beauty and danger of a large unfinished basement that we almost never go down to see---lots of space to store things you don't really need, but can't get yourself to throw away.

I still live in the hard copy world. I still develop photos and put them in albums. I don't print out every document I write, but I did have my blog printed into book form. To me, the physical evidence still matters.

laura k said...

No matter how much space we have, we always fill it. It seems to be the modern human condition.

Re physical evidence, I meant that most of us don't have any physical evidence of our work. The service industry and most professions don't give us that.

Although I love print books and much prefer them to any other format, I try not to print anything. I print very very few documents at work or for the union, and never print photos unless they're going in frames. Even when we used film, I would get the film developed, but I keep them in the envelopes, labeled, not in albums the way my parents did. Paper annoys me. :)