Postea vero quam Tyrannio mihi libros disposuit mens addita videtur meis aedibus. ― Cicero, ad Atticum IV.8
In my household, November is the month for carving away the accumulations of the past year. Spring cleaning is a waste of good weather that could be better spent hiking, but here in the Midwest, where subarctic temperatures and snowbound roads are a routine feature of the month, the time is used more effectively. The house gets systematically cleared of clutter, room by room, box by box, anything still usable "re-homed" with interested relatives and friends.
This year was decidedly trying, on the accumulations front. My mother had electrical and plumbing renovations done on her house, which had been built in the 1930s, and my childhood bedroom needed cleared of its contents to make way to the electrical circuit breaker box and the furnace, both located there. Prior to the onset of certain challenges in my life, I had been an absolutely ravenous reader of books, and my collection had long since passed a thousand volumes... every last damn one of which was relocated to my current residence. A mountain of boxes crowded the room from which I teach piano, leaving little room to walk, and something had to be done with them.
On account of the aforementioned challenges, I do very little reading of printed paper books: audiobooks and text-to-speech renderings on Kindle are how most of my literary experience happens now. After assembling three more brand-new bookshelves, I resolved to fill them to capacity, and not one book more than capacity. There must be no piles or stacks of books atop one another, outside the tidy confines of shelving, waiting for cats to knock them over, or an unwary and unseeing foot to trip on them. Any books kept in my home must, therefore, earn their place, and I developed a set of criteria to be met.
- Out of print volumes with no digital version may be kept. Books are heavy, flammable, and take up space, but those with no method for replacement, may be forgiven for taking up space.
- Purely visual media such as graphic novels may be kept, as digital formats of these leave much to be desired for navigability.
- Language manuals, music books, and teaching materials, all frequently used in my work, must be kept.
- Books for children and teenagers, except out of print volumes with especially intense personal sentimental value, are to be sent by media mail to my best friend, who teaches remedial literacy classes at an elementary school which does not supply adequately diverse reading materials.
- After accounting for all the above factors, every additional book must be one I would willingly re-read at a moment's notice, would willingly recommend or even lend to a curious house guest, and would consider reflective of my personal literary tastes in an authentic (and vain) way, such that if one were to look through my curated collection, they might form an accurate impression of me.
This last point is, I admit, an audacious conceit, but here I shall defer to Nick Hornby, who I feel captures my intention best of all.
All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. ... But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not. ― Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
Iron Noder 2019, 13/30