I always thought throwing out books was sacrilegious. You were supposed to pick them up gently by their worn sleeves and carry them home to roost forever on sleepy shelves. To then shoo them out into the cold, in their tattered jackets? Unfeeling, to abandon an orphan like that.
But I recently steeled myself to the task of getting rid of some books and found myself surprised by how easy it was. I was sheltering books regardless of merit (or merit in my eyes anyway – and it’s my house so my eyes that count) and offering them unconditional shelf space. I had a vast collection of awful, one-read crime books. I had ghastly chick lit charity shop smash-and-grabs, from desperate days of long, comfortless commutes. I had books that no one else wanted, that I picked up because I felt sorry for them.
But I feel happy with them gone. They were like sickly relatives who linger over-long. Their languishing was up, and they knew it. Now my books – MY books – all fit nicely on my bookcase.
They are sorted not by title, not by author, not even by genre. They’re organised by how they make me feel. White Oleander sits next to Fuel Injected Dreams because they call to the part of me that lives in Echo Park and drives a ’69 Camaro with holes in the floor. My Series of Unfortunate Events books live with the Sally Lockhart series – both sets conjuring ***** dens, freak shows and gas-lit streets for me, despite being children’s books.
So my bookcase is no longer a rambling orphanage full of trapdoors and ladders. It’s a carefully curated archive; a many-paged history of the building of me.
This is not a poem. I rarely write poems these days. I would say this is the same as a pianist sitting down at the keyboard because they have a little time and they can see blue sky out of the window. An essay, or an exercise. A stretching of the fingers.