11 January 2014

Bits and Bobs (the bits and bobs edition)

It seems like all I do these days is Bits and Bobs posts. Some swirl of being busy and being lazy has kept me from anything more ambitious. But then, if you are like me, you prefer bookish gossip to most other forms of book blogging anyway, so maybe there is nothing...

(a) ...about which I should feel bad


(b) ...to feel bad about.

Is (b) really wrong?
Wouldn't you agree that 99% of us would finish our sentences that way? Is (a) betterer (sic)?

Slow start
Last year I read like a champion, finishing 111 books when all was said and done. This year is off to a much slower start. I finally finished my first book of 2014 last night (Brookner's Family and Friends). Granted, I have two other books in progress at the same time (Middlemarch, and Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred), but still, this doesn't bode well. I have certainly been preoccupied, nay busy, with our house renovation. Not only have I been working on contractor negotiations, sub-contractor visits, and getting the financing all lined up, but I have also been busy packing up our belongings ahead of our temporary move.

A library of Sophie's choices (but oddly no Sophie's Choice)
One of the biggest challenges in packing up the house has been dealing with all of our books. I am determined to squeeze all of our stuff into our two-bedroom rental. This means that all of my books except for my extensive TBR pile (see picture below) will be tucked away in boxes and hidden in closets. So even though our temporary quarters has tons of closet space, it still seemed like a very good time to weed the collection.

The once packed shelves looking considerably diminished.

Some of the boxes of books that will remain in hiding for almost a year.
The books still on the shelves next to the fireplace represent the books in TBR that I will have access to. Everything I will read in the next eleven months is on those shelves.

Getting ready to move I had to figure out whether or not to keep the turntable and my collection of mainly classical records. Haven't used the turntable for about seven years. Once I put a few of them on I knew I couldn't get rid of them. They sound so good.

Vintage Leontyne waiting for her spin on the turntable.

As the available book boxes filled up, I made remarkably little process emptying the shelves. It was the bookish equivalent of Willa Wonka's everlasting gobstopper. So I began to get aggressive with my book cull. So far about 12 shopping bags of books have been donated to the Friends of the Library. A good thing, I know, but some of them were hard to let go. Especially as I contemplated the volunteers not knowing that they had treasures in their hands. I began putting sticky notes on some of the more esoteric books that I thought needed a little explaining so they didn't get tossed in the pulp pile just because they were old and unknown. And then came the collections and sets...

A conversion on the road to Hay-on-Wye
(If Saul became Paul, will I become Rhomas?) As I ruthlessly tossed out old friends and asked the hard questions about what to keep, I tried not to notice the various collections and sets that were tucked away here and there. These were books that I just had to have. Some combination of bibliophilia and the need to shop. Books that I was quite sure I would never read, but I felt the need to possess them. Beautiful covers, numbered spines, editions that were limited, collectors, or special. What to do, what to do? I have noted before that I much prefer reading copies of books over other more special editions. Ratty old paperbacks please me far more than the shiniest or rarest hardcovers. And I had already decided some months ago that I really didn't need four HC editions of Oryx and Crake (one Canadian first, one US first, and two UK firsts). So it seemed time to not only cull the collection of collections, but it also made me realize I was a bit foolish to buy them in the first place. I know I got pleasure out of them for a while, and if our house was nothing but room after room of books, I might have continued to get pleasure out of them, but I certainly wasn't like to read many of them. So I think my days of buying a book just because I want to possess it are over. Unless I am truly intent on reading something, it just doesn't make much sense to me to keep buying books as objects.

Some of the casualties
Some collectible books may indeed have some monetary value, but unless you are willing to sit on them for months or years while you try to sell them online, it is highly unlikely that you get much of anything for them. Most shops that are buying books pay next to nothing. I am not sure what a typical mark-up is in the antiques trade, but in used books it seems to be somewhere in the 1000% range. So handing something over for 50 cents in store credit doesn't really feel so good. And selling on e-bay is not much better. Giving them away to charity can make one feel good but I think, as I mention above, that many of those books can end up pulped because they are too old and esoteric for the charity to bother with them. It was in doing this math, and realizing that even giving books away can be difficult that helped push me toward my no collecting conversion. I know many of you would love to possess some of my cast-offs, but you all live a million miles away and postage is a bitch.

I ran around London collecting all 100 of the Penguin Great Ideas series seen on the top shelf.

Seems a fitting title for realizing I need to stop buying "collectible" books. They are just beautiful, but I am never going to read them and they take up too much space. Tried to sell them at on ebay, but when I saw how low the bidding was and how much I loved them still, I took them off the market. Then one of the bidder's, who happens to live locally, contacted me with a really good reason why she wanted them and with a decent offer. So I feel good about letting them go.

I had so much fun collecting these wonderful old Signet Classics. They have lovely, fun, interesting covers, but really ugly spines. I found a former lit major in my neighborhood who is now the proud owner of these 60 volumes.

Sending a book a page at a time
Well it isn't really a book, but it looks a bit like a book. And they aren't pages so much...yes, even my collection of 100 Penguin postcards was culled. It is true, I could easily have kept this volume on my shelf for ages and it wouldn't have bothered me one bit. But I began thinking about my post late last year about letters and such. And I know many bloggers over the years have bemoaned the lost art of letter writing. And then an idea began forming in my head. But no, could I really give them up? But yes, that would be quite fun. What to do? So I took the plunge.  I emptied out the lovely book-like box that the postcards came in and shipped it to another blogger with just one postcard inside with the note "Keep. This. Box." written on the back. I think you can figure out what is going to happen at least 99 times.

Whatever sadness I feel at giving up this treasured possession is ameliorated by the fun I am having writing postcards to Amanda. And I know that she will enjoy the cards not only as fun, bookish surprises showing up from time to time in her mailbox but also as pieces of correspondence. One of the added benefits is that I keep the stack of postcards on my desk and find I am getting more pleasure looking at whatever card is on top of the pile at the moment, than I would have if they stayed tucked away in their box. Thankfully I don't have to write all 100 postcards at once.
Amanda's picture of the box and first of 100 postcards to make its way from DC to Georgia.

The rest of the cards providing visual interest on my desk while they wait their turn.


  1. Wow, good for you! I have found that the process of moving serves as a nice check to my consumption habits. I'm glad you found a couple of good homes for several of your lovely sets.

    - Christy

  2. The thought of moving seems daunting for those of us with piles of books in addition to shelves of books. Your current reading must provide some solace, especially the opportunity to immerse yourself in Eliot's wonderful Middlemarch.

  3. I feel like I've won the Rhomas lottery!

  4. This post was so painful to read. I just couldn't stand it as you got rid of book after lovely book. Someone in your neighborhood is very fortunate, indeed.

  5. I feel your pain -- as a military spouse, the next move is always lurking around the corner (hence, the TBR pile/no new books challenges for the next few months). Of course, your porch is much more organized than mine! But I'm glad you didn't get rid of the vinyl. When we made our first military move 18 years ago, my husband sold all vinyl for next to nothing. Now those records would be so valuable, and sound so much better than CDs and digital!

  6. (b) is mu-uch mo bett-a (you have to drag this out in a very slow southern drawl like Olivia Dukakis uses in her role in Steel Magnolias - "(b)" would be pronounced "buh-eee")

    Sorry, I couldn't resist - recently re-watched Steel Magnolias with my dds and have some of those lines/accents stuck in my head. :)

    WOW! is all I can say to Rhomas. Truly this is quite the turn around to be culling out the collections. Part of me says, "good for you!" while the other part of me starts dreading our next move - not anticipated any time soon, thank heaven.

    I can sympathize with the "slow start" to reading. I began with a couple of hefty tomes and progress has been slow as school restarted and half of us were down with flu.

    I absolutely LOVE your postcard idea! Hope you are enjoying Middlemarch on your packing breaks.

  7. It's hard having to cut down what you have, but you said it yourself at the start. You read 111 books last year. There's only so many it's possible to hold onto before you have books that you won't read for three or four years at a time.

  8. This editor says that (b) is perfectly acceptable, and most style guides these days would agree.

    I think it's a very good thing that you found a home for those Great Ideas books, mostly because I was quite tempted to put up my hand and say I was interested in giving them a home, even though I have no room.

  9. I love the idea about the postcards, but am rather more ambivalent about whether I could part with books. I am actually waiting for when I win the lottery and can build a proper library (she says, totally unrealistically but aware that thought makes her quite happy.)

  10. Dear Thomas,

    Happy new year to you. I hope the move goes well. I feel very sympathised with your packing and de-accessioning your beloved books. I had to make a similar attempt to de-accession my books when I moved out from my city's flat two years ago. It was rather stressful to part with some of my books especially I am a hoarder when it comes to books (possibly because I didn't grow up in the bookish household and I never had books when I was a child).

    I decided to donate quite a lot of my paperback editions to a charity organisation that provide book support for education and literacy programmes in developing countries. I thought instead of my paperbacks and text books sitting on my shelves and gathering dust, why shouldn't I pass them on and let other children who don't have books in their lives enjoy these books and let these books open doors for them and bring light to guide them into a better future.

    But I keep all my classic novels. I de-accessioned quite a lot of my long playing records too. But then I asked myself "Will I never going to listen to Enescu's Piano Quintet on LP record ever again?"

    Wishing you all the best with your move! Keep up with all the good works and yes, you can do it!!

    And I look forward to reading many more delightful posts from you this year.

    Best wishes, ASD

  11. The postcard idea is so wonderful that I wish I had thought of it, rather than sending them off willy-nilly (I guess it comes to the same thing, but without the great fun of a completed box of postcards). Even stamps cost such a lot here that it might not be practical...

    Whoever received those Signet books is triple blessed. I came away from this post wanting to own more books, which perhaps isn't the right interpretation.

  12. Brave man! It sometimes takes a major event like a move to make you do what's necessary though. I hope you've stacked your shelves that'll stay with you with goodies though.

  13. Looks like you've attacked this challenge in a very systematic way. I agree, records sound so good that I've kept my turntable too. I find that the albums recorded live are some of the best. When I play my Bob Seger Live album I feel like I'm there and momentarily younger.

  14. I commend you on your will power and hopefully those donated books will find good homes.
    Anecdotal evidence and personal experience leads me to believe that hording is a common affliction among book lovers. : ) I have two editions of Oryx and Crake. I bought the second one accidentally, not realizing I already had a copy (not an infrequent occurrence unfortunately). One is the first U.S. edition and one is the first Canadian edition and I am torn as to which one to relinquish.

    One way I keep my possessiveness in check is to read books from the library. About half the books I read are borrowed rather than owned. I am lucky in that I have access to two good library systems nearby, however. I know that not everyone has that option. And this only helps a somewhat. Both my libraries have Oryx and Crake…but if I see a good condition hard cover from Atwood or another favorite author on the shelf in a used book store, I can’t help myself, I have to have it.

  15. Isn't packing so depressing though, even though you have good reason to do so and your house will even be lovelier eventually. It's a bit like taking down the Christmas decorations.
    Such a good idea on the postcards! I've bought so many cards over the years because they were lovely but what good are they doing sitting in a box? Time to pick up that letter writing campaign.

  16. "I think my days of buying a book just because I want to possess it are over." Yep. I got there myself recently, under much the same circumstances. If I lived in a house with unlimited shelf space and I myself had unlimited funds, it might be different, but. . . do you think this officially marks the point of midlife? Good luck with the move, and let me know if you need help!

  17. Moving is always a huge amount of work, but it is also a good way of cleaning up and clearing out. Good luck with it!

    Kind regards,

  18. Christy: Once we move back, I'm not moving again until retirement.

    James: I keep setting aside Middlemarch for other books, but I am still enjoying it.

    Amanda: I think I might go by Rhomas.

    My thougths...: It wasn't as painful for me as I would have thought.

    Karen: I sold a crazy number of LPs back in college in the late 80s to buy groceries.

    Susan: It really is a turn around for me. Especially stuff that I collected so recently.

    Stu: If I get around to re-reading any of them.

    Teresa: I knew would have a thought on that one. I thought of you and Frances when I culled, but I know you try to keep your books manageable.

    Vicki: I am going to have to do a post on how I made my decisions. It was pretty complicated and didn't always end up the way I would have thought.

    ASD: Most of mine went to charity. Oddly I sometimes like to keep books that aren't my favorite but I feel like they represent part of my reading life.

    Simon: Yes, I think you may have missed he moral of the book culling story.

    Gaskella: So many goodies. That made it easier to cull.

    My Notting Hill: You should see the mess on the other end. The new apartment doesn't look quite as systematic.

    Ruth: Our libraries here never have the books I want to read.

    Stefan: Oddly, I don't find it depressing because i like to organize so much.

    Ellen: It might be midlife. I was going to say that is depressing, but as I think about it is not.

    Bettina: Thanks for the good wishes. Things are going well so far.

  19. OMG, Rhomas. Half emptied bookshelves, cardboard boxes, heart wrenching giveaway decisions--you gave me a flashback! LOL. I'm not sure if we're in our forever home now, but I don't want to move for a long, long time. Hope things are moving along nicely!


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