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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Cutting Time: Trimming books from my shelves

My book shelves now look a little thinner, and maybe a little better, as a culled through the collection and discarded many volumes. I guess I'm at a point in my reading life that I just don't need to have around me every book I've ever owned - although there's something still beautiful and irreplaceable about the concept of a personal library: scanning my shelves, even in their diminished state, I see a set of visual icons that mark the whole course of my intellectual life. So what did I cull? First of all, duplicates: there was a time, particularly when I was a young professor, when I'd constantly get mailings from publishers offering desk copies of books I might order for class, so as a result I had many copies of books w/ very similar contents: complete poems of philip sidney from harcourt, houghton mifflin, penguin, etc. Honestly, it made no sense to hang onto these so I kept just one - usually either the most handsome edition of the one I'd actually read and remembered from college or grad school or whenever. Second, bad books by good authors. Even the greatest of writers has a few duds; now, I didn't cull from the collections I've built up of the truly great writers: yes I kept Faulkner's Mosquitoes, yes I kept Updike's S., yes to everything by Roth, Hemingway, Hardy, and so on - but no two a crappy late-career book by a once-great Eastern European intellectucal and no to a much hyped but truly terrible book by an American writer well known for her witty short stories, and so forth. Then, poetry - sort of the opposite of fiction in this regard. Even a pretty good poetry book from 20+ years ago seems to retain interest and value not on its merits alone but on the arc of the writer's career. So, though I may never again read a Merwin book, I held on to what I've got - but sorry to so many other poets who crossed paths with my life (meaning I heard them at a reading and picked up the chapbook on sale) and whom I've never heard of again or have long ago forgotten. And finally, saddest of all, the one-hit-wonders of the books world: particularly from my days as a books editor I had a # of first novels and I hung onto most of them. Many never published again, and most of these I moved along. Sorry, Progress of a Fire and Loving Little Egypt and The Pull of the Earth - books once loved and now lost to time. I hope all of the writers who once had hopes and dreams and whom I have secretly dissed in this process have found happiness and fulfillment in whatever course their lives pursued once having published.

(And btw I brought the books to Cellar Stories, in Providence, so if you want to buy the Complete Poems of Sidney ... ) 

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