Yesterday, I tackled a project that I’d been ignoring for eons — paring down some of the several hundred books I’d collected over the last two decades.
The final straw came when I looked around my living room one day and noticed that the bookshelves were overflowing and mysterious piles of fiction had sprouted on my kitchen table, writing desk, and other available flat surfaces.
Fellow bibliophiles will understand. There is nothing harder than culling your book
collection. Each has a backstory or overpowering impulse behind its purchase. The
copy of Religions of MesoAmerica you bought at a secondhand bookshop in Chicago
where the owner chain-smoked and drank Coke out of a can, causes a tangible pang
when you think of getting rid of it, even though you haven’t cracked it in five years.
Besides, you never know when you will need to know more about ancient Mayan religions … at least that’s the way I justify it.
Once I realized I was running out of places to sit, the reality sank in that no matter
how unpleasant the task, I had to do something at last. So, on the first day of spring I set to work, culling my collection into two piles, the books I’d keep and
those that would be donated.
The process was relatively painless, once I was honest (Did I need three copies of
The Windup Bird Chronicle?) and set ground rules: 1.) Was the book a gift or did it
have some meaningful attachment 2.)Would I reread the book? 3.) Was the book by
a favorite author or did it have “literary” merit? 4.) Would I read the book if I hadn’t? 5.) Did I want to keep the book … just because?
Four hours later, I had cleared out almost a hundred books, not as much as I wanted, but not a shabby start. While I was cleaning I ran across several novels that had been given to me as a teenager that had made a favorable impression.
My grandmother on my father’s side fostered an early love in reading by giving me Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines as a kid and later introduced me to Ed McBain,
Agatha Christie, Issac Asimov and others. While I was cleaning I discovered a couple of battered copies of Michael McDowell’s Blackwater series she had passed along to
me. McDowell is probably best known now for writing the screenplay for Beetlejuice.
For anyone who hasn’t read the series, imagine William Faulkner gothic ambiance combined with the horror of HP Lovecraft. I moved those books to my keep stack
and plan on hopefully digging back into them at some point. I see that the entire series is back in print including the volumes I was never able to get my hands on.
All of this got me thinking about great books that have fallen through the cracks, never attained the status that they should or aren’t widely known. Are there any books in your collection that you wish were better well known?