The Book Depository
Throughout our trip the question lurked in the back of my mind �What will I do with all the books when I get to San Francisco?� Gene had suggested donating them all to the San Francisco Public Library and then visiting them via Muni. I wondered if there was any recompense for a donation so large, perhaps a chair of my own to sit and read in? Alas, my hopes were dashed when I learned that libraries usually sell donations to raise funds, and that they often remove from the shelves the items that don�t circulate. Much as I value The Understanding By Design Workbook
, I doubt that it would see enough action to stay on the shelf. I considered donating them to a university library, but the same limitations apply. It was Sean who first raised the possibility of selling them to Moe�s and then buying them back if I ever needed them. This idea had several advantages:
1) Immediate recompense in the form of cold, hard, cash.
2) Regular trips to my favorite bookstore to replenish my supply.
3) The inverse likelihood that the rarer they are, the more likely they are to stay on the shelves.
And so it is with this in mind that I am designing my new collection. What shall define the quality of the works that stay? We already have the seven mark system for fiction, but what about reference? What about books I have not read but intend to? What about books that are not useful now but may be later?
Simply surveying the shelves at my parents� house I can discern two obvious categories: 1) anything on Encyclopedia Brittanica�s Great Books of the Western World
list�keep; 2) books bought for courses in college that I have not needed in the last two years (or for that matter, since the class)�sell. This last category of course leads to its obverse, books bought for courses in college that I have
needed in the last two years. Those should be kept for an additional extension of two years. A harder to discern category is �English classics I have never read that I have poor editions of (i.e. pocketbook paperbacks of Tess of the D�Ubervilles
).� While these are good and important books that I may someday want to read, they are easily replaced from used book stores and if I ever read them seriously, I will most likely want a better edition.
As I contemplate doing away with all the books I read for courses in college, it occurs to me that they serve an additional function. There are a number of fields in which I am not specialized enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. The books on the shelf form a visual reading list that will be lost when they are gone. I will have to keep a list of them all. In fact, keeping a list of all the books I once had, and a record of whether I kept them or sold them may help maintain my sanity when six months from now I find myself muttering and pawing through the shelves to find the Tess of the D�Ubervilles
I could swear I had. Such a list would best be kept as a searchable database. What program to keep such a list in? Time to call Gene.
I began to cull the collection remaining at my parents� house while waiting for a friend to return my call. I thought I was doing quite well, only saving about a third of the books, but one particular shelf is giving me trouble. What about science textbooks? I know very little and have them so that I can learn more. They are hard to find often and expensive. However, they go out of date very quickly. I feel very strongly that that section should be allowed to remain intact, but with it comes the film section.
The film section is only really about five books. Why do I feel so strongly about them? They somehow represent a field I value and would like to think I am informed in. I suppose they act as a badge of initiation. Whenever I feel inferior in film knowledge, I can recall them and feel that I too know the basics, but I don�t actually care much for the content of those particular books so it�s never very comforting. Away they go. They are classics; they can be gotten at the library, or at least, at a university library. What will become of the film books in the other boxes though?
What about opera scores? There are only two, �Don Giovanni� and �The Magic Flute.� I have tickets to the opera and will likely go see them, but will probably not study them in depth. I suppose they can go then.
What about nearly great books? Books that are indeed classics and well worth studying, far more worthwhile than most contemporary fiction, but that do not make the Great Books list? Lest you be fooled, this is a large category, perhaps the bulkiest of them all. It�s filled with giant names: Mark Twain, Boccaccio, John Keats, Thomas Marlowe, Tennessee Williams, Ben Jonson, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway. If I have had them for as many years as I have, and have never read them, then I probably should get them at the library�unless it�s a really nice edition (like my Decameron
). So I guess they all go. But that begs another question.
What about the Great Books that don�t have any writing in them, that I probably won�t reread? Do I keep them as trophies of the intellect? Or do I humble myself and admit that Aristotle�s Physics
means very little to me. As much as some people love Plotinus, I find it facile, the universe is too easily systematized. I think it may be time to go with Flaubert, and admit that knowing only six books, but knowing them well would be an education that far surpasses a cursory knowledge of many. Away then with the extra Aristotle. Perhaps I should only be saving my favorite books and those I am dying to read? Such a prospect is too frightening to consider yet.
I went to the storage unit and retrieved four boxes of books. They are already posing more questions. What do I do with the teacher books? I keep hoping that when I get a job there will be a bookshelf and I can just take them all there. Until then, I suppose they should get set aside and put together into boxes. There are also cookbooks, but there aren�t so many of them and they serve a purpose. Here too are the first wave of Children�s Books. Those will be hardest.
What about poetry? I can hardly think of a reason it should stay since I seldom read it and am not particularly attached to any of it. Yet I like the idea of it�preparing to sit down on a rainy afternoon with a cup of tea and walking up to the poetry shelf for a single-serving sized piece of literature... Though such delusions also include a pipe and quilted silk dressing gown, neither of which I have, so why keep the poetry? Away it goes.
The piles on the desk of keepers are staying fairly steady, but there are growing piles on the floor of books I know not what to do with. Souvenir books (yearbooks, journals, jr. high address books) can all stay at my parents� house. I suppose I should separate out the young adult fiction to offer to friends, but it can go. I will borrow them back if I ever want to read them. The real question is about children�s books. I had thought of putting my name in all of them and loaning them on a long-term basis to a middle school Language Arts teacher. I may need them back if I teach Language Arts. Okay, so all children�s books except those that I still want to read can go in another box.
And what of foreign language? They are hard to come by and expensive, but I can�t read them without other people to read with. I think some of them will have to go. Those that remain can stay at my parents' house, which we may now refer to as "the archives." I suppose most of the science and textbooks can remain there as well.
This all feels like a section out of Brave New World
, where the Director invokes the sacred quote of Ford, �History is bunk:�
He waved his hand and it was as though, with an invisible feather whisk, he had brushed away a little dust, and the dust was Harappa, was Ur of the Chaldees; some spider-webs, and they were Thebes and Babylon and Cnossos and Mycenae. Whisk. Whisk�and where was Odysseus, where was Job, where were Jupiter and Gotama and Jesus? Whisk�and those specks of antique dirt called Athens and Rome, Jerusalem and the Middle Kingdom�all were gone. Whisk�the place where Italy had been was empty. Whisk, the cathedrals; whisk, whisk, King Lear and the Thoughts of Pascal. Whisk, Passion; whisk, Requiem; whisk, Symphony; whisk� (p. 34 in the battered Harper Perennial paperback I will soon not have).
The only ancient tragedy that strikes true fear into my heart is the burning of the library at Alexandria. The sudden fiery deaths of all the inhabitants at Pompeii, or the thousands upon thousands who died in vain at Troy, or even the course of history lost to Alcibiades' treachery is mere dust in the wind compared to the loss of such a library. What will I do when it happens again?