The Book Cull

It’s been so hard. A lifetime of books gathered over more years than I want to admit, but it had to be done. I didn’t count the number of books I sent to be re-homed, but suffice to say the British Heart Foundation collection driver knows my registered number off by heart.

Which to keep and which to ditch?

I worked out early on that picking my favourites was easy – the ones I can’t live without – books authored by friends, books I’d read as a beta reader, books I’d written professional reviews for, anything particularly personal to me. All those I’ve kept. My most enduring literary love affair has to be “Mrs Mike”, a novel about Katherine Mary Flannigan who married a mountie and found herself living in the wilds of Ontario in the early 1900s. Inscribed to me from “Grandma and Daddy Sam – Christmas 1961” it’s had pride of place in every bookshelf I’ve ever filled.

Choosing the classics was fairly easy and I’ve kept those which I think, (optimistically I should add), I just may read again – Eliot, Austen, Dickens, Solzhenitsyn and the like. The poets were mostly slim volumes so since they don’t take up much space I was able to keep a good fair number of those – Rossetti, Cohen, McGough, Abse, and Gerard Manley Hopkins ( a large volume, but given to me by a beau years ago so I couldn’t let that one go).

I knew there were going to be some hard decisions. The Famous Five books came under that category. My childhood Boxing Day read of which four books remained. Having watched “Hoarders” on tv I knew three of them were going to have to go. In the end I went for “Five Get Into Trouble” (1957) and sent the others to a new forever home. The “Reader’s Digest Junior Treasury” (1960) stays with me too. I only have to see its impressive gold embossed spine and I’m right back under the covers with a torch reading about Gladys Aylward in China, Blondin: Wizard of the Tight-rope, and the Riddle of the Abominable Snowman. That’s before I gravitated to listening to Radio Luxembourg in my teens. For those who remember – “in” joke alert – Keynsham spelt K E Y N S H A M.

The non-fiction culling was tricky. There were books I’d enjoyed, but they’d had their day and many of them superceded by new research or better writers with more colourful illustrations. Out they went. eg. all the travel guides. My different hobbies and interests were well represented – music, antique textiles, all and everything Chinese, ex libris, (Yes, I collect those) and general history, – but I knew I didn’t need ten or more books on the same subject when a couple of major texts would suffice. I’ve kept all the books on how to write since that’s what interests me most right now.

Did I learn anything about myself? Yes, that my interests in later life grew out of my early reading years, and many of those books were given to me as gifts. I was fortunate to be an only child recognised as a reader and encouraged. Books are heavy and culling my library was physically hard, but it has proved cathartic and that’s come as a surprise. I’ve got rid of the hangers on and the rest, (see below), I suspect are here for the duration however long that may be.

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