Saturday, March 24, 2007

What do you all do with your unwanted books?

I have just burnt one of mine. It has been in the toilet on my mini bookcase for at least three years, and though once I tried to read it, it was excruciatingly bad. The book was self published by an acquaintance, and I felt duty bound to buy it. I can't tell you how terrible this book was. Not only was it filled with grammatical errors and continuity gaffes, it had a ridiculously dull plot.

I'm trying to slim down my shelves. Books are shoving, pushing and slithering over each other each other in every room, and stupidly, I can't seem to bear the thought of throwing any away. Some I have taken to the hospital, my old uni books I have been selling on ebay. Others are stuffed under the bed, in the horror that someone I respect might spot them and Point and Laugh at me. Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic Abroad? Pesk, really! HAHAHAHA! How to Declutter Your House? It's not working. HAHAHA!

So, some have to go. But it's painful. Books I despise, well and truly, can go on the fire. Or can they? How on earth did I end up with Howard Stern's Private Parts under my bed?

I decide I will categorize before burning. Top shelf in the toilet will be Ted Hughes' domain. His collections and biographies, his books for children.

On the second shelf in toilet will go books that are too small to go onto the third shelf. Fuck, a useless categorization already. Ok, skinny or stunted ones which suit shelf number two.
Paula Fox, Nicholson Baker, Simon Armitage (how did I end up with two copies of Kid? And what do I do with the other?) Ancient hardback books of poetry and serious little Life and Times Of, in marbled red, green, black can fit on this shelf too. Beautifully earnest with gold lettered spines, Elizabeth Barrett pre Browning, Jane Austen, the Bronte's. I don't read them, any of them. Why are they here? Perhaps I bought them in a flurry of panic before starting university, as though the classics could seep in through some form of osmosis. Surely though, once they must've been savoured by someone. The tiny red bound copy of Austen's Emma has an important little stamp inside the cover, which declares it to have been sold by A.H.Wheeler and Co's Railway Bookstalls, for One Rupee and Eight Annas. I imagine some genteel lady half baked to death, clackety clackety clacking through 429 pages of tiny writing all the way to Jaipur, yearning for the tranquility of an English drawing room. However did they cope with print so microscopic in the days before Specsavers?

Anyway, third shelf - big boisterous books. The History of Kosovo, Legends of the Balkans, Ivo Andric's Bridge on the Drina, Vuk Draskovic's Knife all trumpet their status here - why do I have these? Because I once loved a Serb of course. They stay. Big, handsomely decorated, self important and clever, they are too like him to dispose of. A couple of Viz annuals sit next to them. He'd be so annoyed.

Bedroom now, two big bookcases. The top row of both, is purely for poetry. No idea why. Perhaps because poetry is my big love. Some of these though, like any other lover, are scandalously awful. The Portable Henry Rollins? Please. Can I throw it away? Of course not. Please Lord make me a Famous Poet, or at Least Less Fat. The book is bad, but the title resonates, and so it stays. Carol Ann Duffy, her entire output. Liz Lochead, nothing too ropey. Then we get to a chunky hardback Andrew Motion, won in a faber & faber competition. How embarrassing. Can I throw it? Nope. I won that when I could still write.

Middle and bottom shelves here map my past. I can look at the spine particular books and know exactly where I was when I was reading it - beach in Turkey (Margaret Atwood), coffee shop in Belgrade (David Lodge), lake in Prague (Jaroslav Seifert) flight to Norway (Toby Litt, Isabelle Allende). I can remember coming home to find one book on Serbia ripped into pieces and strewn across my bed. The replacement copy sits, pristine and unopened, reminding m oe why I left the jealous shredder. On my bedside table, a copy of the The Giant's House. I've finished it, so it should migrate somewhere (back to Ivoryfishbone's house?) but it's so beautifully written I keep picking it back up and reading parts over and over. She'll have to wrestle it from me.

Downstairs in the living room, a huge Victorian bookcase dominates the room. On three shelves are worthy books. Not to impress visitors (o.k, not only), but as a nod to the splendour of the shelves they inhabit. Tolstoy. Kundera. Chekhov. The resolve runs out by the bottom shelf though. A puppy chewed copy of Tell Me a Story, several jacketless Enid Blyton's. A GI diet book. An A to Z of Prague.
Stacked upwards on the microwave in the kitchen, balance approximately 30 cookbooks. Meals in Minutes, Fast Food, Quick and Easy Food, One Pot Dishes (can you spot a pattern?) with a copy of Colonial Discourse and Post Colonial Theory disconcertingly wedged in the middle. I don't use any of these. What is the point?

The fire spatters and coughs, waiting.

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