Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How to prune a literary garden

When I sorted through my books last week to prune those to donate to the annual Hillsdale Used Book Sale (July 26), I discovered several duplicates.

What was I thinking when I bought these “seconds”?

Was I even aware that I already owned one copy?

Consciously or subconsciously, I must have felt that they were worthy of duplication. Or maybe I was simply covering my bets. (Interior monologue: “Did I lend that to someone? Better buy it. I can always give it away if I discover I still have a copy.”)

Well, I’ve vowed that the days of duplication are over and then some. I’m getting this collection down to a size I can manageably read before I’m pruned by the Great Pruner.

One year I went through my books resolved to remove volumes I had no intention of reading — ever. Then I discovered I just liked having them available, in case.

Then I've tried culling books I have actually read. Confession: they are a distinct minority. I'm a painfully slow reader. Of course the mere fact that I’ve read a book doesn’t give me a reason to get rid of it. Who, after reading “1984” or “Walden,” is going to get rid of it?

So this year I considered a new approach to pruning my collection. I considered setting a number, 250, which I planned to keep. Identify those and get rid of everything else, I told myself. In my case, the donation cull would be about 750 books.

It sounds easy until you see the gems buried away in the 750.

So I took a “hybrid” approach. I met nearly half my goal. About 300 books. I filled eight boxes which have been turned over to the sale organizers. The trick now is to vow not buy any of them back at the sale. I know from experience the vow won't be easy to keep.

OK, so what are those duplicates? If I list them, you may understand how I ended up with two of these:

Will Durant: “The Story of Philosophy”

John K. Galbraith’s “The Affluent Society.”

Huston Smith’s “The Great Religions.”

E.F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful.”

Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.:

Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” (I had three copies!)

For next year, I'm considering dropping books by a single author. Like Graham Greene or Ray Bradbury or Lewis Thomas or Neil Postman. Described that way, the task sounds more like an up-against-the-wall execution. I have to remember that I'm getting rid of books, not people. Strange how the distinction isn't always clear — as in "Have you read any Bradbury lately" or "I love Hemingway."

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Blogger M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

This is something I can relate to, because I literally "prune" for a living:

Tree Pruning in Portland

But I also "prune" or control my books. Pretty much have just one of everthing. Some books are worth a second read. Our son's Hardy Boys did not go until a second read of the set.

Nice to have Powell's books in town, because they buy a few odds and ends.


8:07 AM  

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