Sunday, January 21, 2007

Letting Go

Charles Rutledge and I often end up on the same page philosophically, and today is no exception. Charles writes on his blog about getting rid of some books that he's enjoyed but doesn't foresee reading again. I'm actually moving more and more in the same direction.

Back in the 1960s, 1970's, and even the early 1980's, I never would have believed that I would ever part with any of the books that I owned. Then, in the early 80's, I fell out of love with SF and fantasy as literary genres; I still enjoyed reading some works in both fields, but I didn't feel the need to own a book simply because it was either SF or fantasy. And even more significantly, I realized that there were many books I had enjoyed tremendously that I could enjoy just as well without owning them. I've read Isaac Asimov's Foundation series; I loved it, and my love for it isn't at all diminished by the fact that I haven't owned the books in twenty years. Same for Edmund Cooper's Five to Twelve, one of my favorite novels; or John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar; or the complete works of Robert A. Heinlein. Likewise other favorites like The Great Gatsby or A Tale of Two Cities or Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I have ineradicable memories of the power of each of these books, and those memories will always be with me; having the books is just an attempt to recreate that initial excitement by re-establishing a physical connecton with the book itself.

The simple truth is, I hardly ever re-read books. Of the tens of thousands of books I've read, I suspect I have re-read fewer than two hundred of those books. So I find myself devoting more and more space to storing items that I am less and less likely to re-experience because I have too many new books I still want to read for the first time.

Comics are, in some ways, more problematical--the collectible nature of the medium makes me feel more inclined to keep them around. But in many ways, comics are even less likely to be re-read, because most of them are stored in boxes that make it difficult to dig them out on the spur of the moment. And the availability of DC Archives, Marvel Masterworks, and other trade paperback and hardcover collections of classic faves makes it easy for me to pull those books off the shelves when/if I wish to re-read them. Since I do tend to re-read some of my favorite comics--and frequently look at the art--having those collections proves useful to me. But having the original comics is in many ways a trophy accomplishment; I have them because I have been able to acquire them, not because there is more joy in having them.

Maybe it's time to adopt a "catch and release" policy on comics. I've acquired them; I've proven that I can acquire them. My fond memories of those books will be present whether I have the books in a box in the basement or not. Heck, I can sell the books, conveniently forget that I sold them, and then I can imagine that they're still down there, waiting for me to dig them out!

I have already begun getting rid of some of my once-beloved niche-market books, such as my Kennedy assassination books (a guilty pleasure of mine) or my religious literature and archeology reference works; again, I rarely go through them, and I think they can do much more for others than they're doing for me right now.

Oh, believe me, my house is still filled with far too many items that I don't need but can't bring myself to part with. But little by little, I'm trimming down that list. Memories are much lighter than the objects themselves, easier to store, and often far more entertaining to revisit...

1 comment:

Tom said...

Hear hear! I thank eBay for my own zenlike detachment to objects of entertainment. I love your description of memories at the end of this post...