The night of the short shelves has come around again too soon.
Once the base ingredients of my house becomes more than 78% books, I am told that there must be a sacrifice to the local charity shops. The first couple of hundred have gone, there is more. A sturdy rectangular shopping bag must be filled twice a day until the risk of “death by falling Colin Wilson hardback” is reduced by 29%.
Each book removed feels like the ripping off of a gummy band aid from a hairy shin.
This happens once or twice a year. I go off on tour, visit every charity shop in each town until the weight of books has made my spine Quilpish, then the torn carrier bags are secreted in every dent and scar in the house.
They start to spill.
I try to arrange them, and they gain Escher like shapes. The pressure of the stacks makes it increasingly hard to see where one book begins and another ends. There is a point when my family have flashbacks to images of Mr Trebus’s house and they shudder when they come through the front door and see the spectacle of bibliomadness.
And that is when I get out my gift aid stickers and know, for the sanity of all, and possibly myself, I must jemmy out a few hundred books.
There are too many.
I can waste most of the spare hours I have for reading trying to work out what to read. I make reading plans in my head.
“This month I will only read non-fiction by Steve Jones and fiction by Margaret Atwood”, but in the first chapters I am told of an expert or eccentric, or both, who I sounds so wonderful/twisted/alluring that I must immediately read about them. I don’t just buy one book by that person, I buy all of them. Sit down, start to read and, hell’s ditch, this person mentions an idea that sounds so intoxicating I must know about that, and I know I have some books on it. I climb and stumble into corners, cursing my failed cataloguing, and soon it is December 2031 and I am near death from paper cuts and still ill-informed on nearly everything.
The system of cutting out the books is based on likelihood of reading and ease of replacement. I want to read them all, they were bought on a whim, but an iron whim.
None are so diseased that the act of detachment is simple. I start reading them and think,”I do really need this. This is fascinating”.
This is why I bought them, of course they are fascinating, this cannot come into the decision making process.
Paul O Grady’s autobiographies were easy to excise. They are very well-written, interesting and passionate from what I have read so far, but such bestsellers that I can pick them up again when I have time. Those books of Main Currents in Sociological Thought were bought because I want to know Durkheim and Weber, but I must be honest and accept they were not to be read this year or next.
I should know more about Animal Architecture, especially from a book by a man who pioneered research into the dance of bees, but I will repurchase this when I decided my Edinburgh show will focus on hives and rookeries. I have owned Orwell’s War Broadcasts for 25 years and still not read it, put it into the bag and gain succour from knowing you have the complete collection of essays.
I surprise myself by remembering where each book was bought. The War Broadcasts was from a secondhand bookshop up Egham Hill and around the corner from the Rising Sun pub, O Grady’s came from Kings Lynn’s British Heart Foundation, main Currents in Sociological Thoughts from a house clearance warehouse near Appledore.
Those Boring Postcards books compiled by Martin Parr survive the slaughter this time, many of my Thinker’s Library books do not. I love their dinky nature, their warm intention of bringing education to all, the delight of their burgundy and orange spines on the shelf, but they are closer to stuff to have than books to read.
Each one is bought, or so I tell myself, for pragmatic reasons. I possess each one because it looked like it might contain sentences that could be turned into ideas to project on stage. Reading is my career. I am a funnel. Drop the books in and a show may eventually come out.
I wish Emily Cockayne’s Hubbub had remained, and Stephen Oppenheimer’s Out of Eden too. I am sure I would read them right now if I had them here.
Stop publishing books, there are just too many. let us call a truce with publishers, let us draw breath and try to catch up. Better fill that bag again, it’s made of jute. I wonder if I need a book on jute manufacture.
My autumn tour starts soon, after Festival Number 6 and Berkofest. I am off across UK (then USA and Australia next year) – Sheffield, Goole, Liverpool, Aldershot, Finchley, Manchester, London and on and on. All details HERE
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