Monday, 14 January 2013

Back to the Books. . .

The Christmas tree has been taken down and put away, I've seen Mum off to the airport after a month's visit, and the nagging cough and cold that has bothered me for the last two weeks has finally subsided.  Now all I want to do is get cozy on the couch and READ!

Which I haven't done for a long time now.

I read a pitiful 16 books in 2012, the smallest number since I started keeping a book journal over ten years ago (I usually average somewhere between 75 - 125).  I can cite any number of reasons. By contrast, I knitted more than I ever have before which definitely cut into any available reading time.  I've also had ready access to a television for the last six months and have spent far too much idle time in front of it (something I'll remedy this year).  And of course there was a cross-Atlantic move that completely preoccupied me for two months.  But mostly, I think my reading funk was a result of mourning for my books.

Back in Toronto, I lived in a one-bedroom flat that looked like this.

Now I grant that having sixteen bookcases in such a tiny space and sundry piles of books on every conceivable surface may look a tad untidy, but trust me, it was very cozy, especially in the winter. After all, books do furnish a room. (Oh, there are times that I do miss that little apartment). But in making the decision to move to the UK to cohabit with a non-reader who doesn't like clutter (he does have other good qualities), I knew I had to cull quite a bit. In the end, with the cost of overseas shipping to consider, plus the lack of space for bookshelves in my new home, it turned out to be about eighty percent.  Or roughly 4,000 books. And I had about four weeks to make the painful decisions, book by book, and dispose of them.  I sold what I could and donated dozens and dozens of boxes to the university book sales.  And tried not to think about all the money I'd spent acquiring books whose spines I'd never cracked.

The hardest bit was breaking up collections I'd amassed over the years, mostly of beautifully designed imprints. I used to collect Persephones, out of print Viragos, NYRB Classics, Everymans, Folios, New Directions, Europas, Dalkey Archive, Open Letter, Hesperus, and Vintage Crime to name a few. I wasn't a completist by any means but I had lots of shelves dedicated to each.  The only line I kept intact were my Persephones - still the most beautifully designed books I've ever come across - and that meant huge cuts among all the rest.  Even those out of print Viragos, the rewards of hours of happy browsing through second hand shops around the world, were duly decimated.  Along with lots and lots of classics.  After all, I'd easily be able to find Dickens or Austen in England.

Then there were the distressing decisions among my "subject collections", really a lifelong problem with being interested in too many things.  I just couldn't take them all.  But what to give up? Brontes or Bloomsbury?  (In the end it was a bit of both - did I really need two biographies of Bertrand Russell?  Could I live without that collection of 1970s essays on Wuthering Heights? ) I couldn't part with my WWI books but that came at the expense of a rather darn good collection of theatre history, criticism and plays, from the Greeks right up to my favourite contemporary playwrights.  I even ditched all my Shakespeare (though I have since had to go out and buy a one-volume collection. Even if the print is ridiculously tiny, there are just some things you have to have close by).

Unlike culling clothes (I got rid of about 70% of my closet and feel absolutely no regret about any of it -that was truly cathartic),  getting rid of the books really did feel like saying goodbye to bits of me. It seems inconceivable that I no longer have my texts from years of studying English Lit, with my underlinings and margin notes.  My three shelves of quirky "books about books" - all gone.  I chose about five travel books and got rid of dozens.  I took only three cookbooks and didn't have time to copy down all the recipes I wanted from the others.  Art books are big and heavy; they were almost the first to go.  And if there's one book I regret parting from, it's probably a signed edition of Vera Brittain's poems.  I did get a good price for it from a dealer and more than I paid for it online, and I reasoned that poetry wasn't really her strong point.  Even so. . .

But guess what?

I STILL have more unread books than I'll ever be able to tackle in my lifetime! I still have piles on the floor overflowing from the measly three bookcases I now have in the spare room.  And because I no longer work in publishing, I can now read anything I darn well want to guilt-free, which is quite liberating (I see a lot of classics in my near future).  Not to mention that as staff at one of the city's universities, I have an all powerful academic library card which gives me access to unlimited literary treasures.  Life is good.  The grieving process is over. Bring on the  books; my mojo is back.  The Guardian recently published a sneak peak of the publishing calendar for 2013 and there's lots to look forward to. I'm most excited about new novels from Javier Marias, Jonathan Coe (!!!!!), Jane Gardam and Margaret Atwood's conclusion to her Oryx and Crake trilogy.

In the meantime, thanks to some xmas vouchers and Boxing Day sales, here's the pile most close to hand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sheesh. I would go into mourning, too. Bravo, you, for finding the silver lining.