Suspend Your Disbelief

Shop Talk |

Books We Can't Part With

photo by austinevan

photo by austinevan

When I moved from Ann Arbor to Boston, movers came to pack our things. After the thirteenth box of books–literally–Mover #1 actually set down his tape gun and said in complete seriousness, “Do you really need all these books?”

Oh yes. I needed them.

The New York Times, however, understands that now and then one must actually cull one’s library for reasons of space. The editors asked several authors for their advice on how to do it:

Francine Prose:

  • Unless you are an Egyptologist, you only need one, at most two, enormous coffee table books on the Art of the Pharaohs.
  • If a country, like Czechoslovakia, no longer exists, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to take the travel guide along with you when you go.

Chang-rae Lee:

  • Any novel or poetry collection written by a celebrity
  • Books originating from or inspired by a blog, because I’m hopelessly sentimental about the dying world of book-only books.
  • Anthologies of fiction and poetry that have “greatest” in the title; “best” is O.K., but “greatest” usually means a hit list of the too familiar and bland.

Fred Bass, co-owner of The Strand:

My advice is to first clean out duplicates and books with repetitive information — why do you need six dictionaries? Next, remove all books with out-of-date information, like atlases and reference books. Political, economic and topical books should be the next category to sort through; you don’t really need that copy of Richard Simmons’ “Never-Say-Diet Book” (a 1981 best-seller), or a book on the future of the Democratic or Republican parties, written 20 years ago.

And a man after my own heart:

Joshua Ferris:

Get rid of books? Are you kidding? The only reason anyone should get rid of a book is if they’re going for that Japanese minimalist design look in which the room is all white and not even the drawers are visible. For those of us with more modest decor goals, living everyday lives with clutter and old clothes, cats and children, sour towels hanging from the rack, knickknacks, pilled throws, boring old mementos, what could be more essential than books?

FWR readers, as you enter this new year, will you be clearing out any space on your shelves for new books? If so, tell us what you’ll be getting rid –and why.

(And, in case this discussion of getting rid of books gave you the vapors, here’s the antidote: those same writers on books they could never, ever part with.)

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