Buried Under My Books

One of these days I’m not going to be able to leave my house because it’s been filled to the top with books. I’m exaggerating, of course, but probably like many of you, I’ve got oodles of well worn tomes hanging about on shelves and tables, stacked up and tossed, margin noted or not.

I’ve got a decent poetry collection, and a whole shelf of books on Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy, I’ve got non-fiction biographies of physicists (Feynman and his books especially) as well as books on cryptography and the NSA. I’ve got art books. And cook books – don’t get me started. I’ve saved books I read when I was a kid (Harriet the Spy anyone?) and I’ve got picture books I love. I’ve got books about people who cook and their opinions about gastronomy (especially cooks and chefs from NYC).

And then there’s the short story collections. Oh boy, do I have a ton of those. Best American Short Stories, and Pushcart and invididual authors and more. And then there’s books about writing… writing plays, screen plays, writing short stories, and crafting characters and no plot no problem and the rest of it. (I still say Stephen King’s book On Writing is one of the best.) No book collection would be complete without a bunch of dictionaries, and I’ve got those too.

I haven’t even talked about novels, because it’s so obvious I’d have a gazillion of those, right? Everything from the classics to recent Pulitzer winners to dollar finds on the sale rack and everything in between.

Although I’m surrounded by all these books, I must admit most of these books I have not read twice. Why do I keep all these books I love, just because I read them? I don’t know, but I know it’s what I’ve always done. I read a book and think, oh that was wonderful, and put it on the shelf and enjoy looking at the title knowing I read it. Then I forget it’s there because I’ve moved on to my next book…and the next.

But I don’t know how to part with my James Joyce Reader, or Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (actually I read this from time to time.)

A friend of mine and I were recently discussing Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. I instantly knew I had a copy of it, although I have not picked the book up in two decades. I’m not kidding (about either fact…) And it got me to thinking, why do I need a copy of Winesburg, Ohio? I don’t think I do. And I don’t think I need every single book I have on my shelves either…but where to begin in parting with them?

How do you deal with this, dear reader? For some of you, if space is a severe constraint, have you boxed your books and put them in storage? Do you only use the public library? Do you read the books you buy and immediately give them to someone else, donate them, or discard them (perish the latter)?

Even if space is not a severe constraint, how are you handling the dozens, or hundreds, of books you’ve accumulated?

I think it’s time for me to seriously consider a partial divestiture…

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Vacation Reading List

One of the things I didn’t necessarily expect to do while I was in New Orleans was to buy books.  But after seeing a few of the bookstores in the French Quarter I couldn’t help myself. Every bookstore I found was a small, independently operated shop.

The FAB bookstore on Frenchman street has a wealth of books on or about New Orleans. I found Rob Walker’s Letters from New Orleans here, which I enjoyed a lot. The letters were not originally intended to be a book, they were personal observations Rob sent to his friends and family about his time in the city. All of the letters were written before Hurricane Katrina and some of his observations about the city are chilling, including one line about flooding I still remember: “New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen.”

I also bought both of my David Sedaris books at FAB. I got When You are Engulfed in Flames which I thought was very funny, and I’m about halfway through Naked, which I don’t like as well as the first book I read. Engulfed in Flames is more recent than Naked, incidentally.

Another bookstore I enjoyed was Faulkner House Books, which is in Pirate’s Alley which runs between Decatur and Royal Streets directly beside St. Louis Cathedral (right off of Jackson Square.) If you’re not looking for this bookstore you’d miss it because not a lot of people seem to walk down Pirate Alley. Also, the bookstore entrance is so small you could walk right by it and never notice.

The woman who runs this bookstore takes great pride in her collection, which she carefully curates. I was pleased to find she had an entire group of Louisiana and New Orleans short story collections. I bought the work of one writer, Tim Gautreaux and started with his collection Same Place, Same Things. The stories are about poor people, and/or Cajuns living in Bayou country. Many of the stories were published in well known journals like GQ, or Harpers, or The New Yorker and I enjoyed almost all of the stories tremendously, they are incredibly well written.

After reading Same Place, Same Things, I went on a hunt in the Quarter for his other collection which is out of print. It’s called Welding With Children, and I was able to find it and I’ve read everything but the last story. My favorite story in this collection is called Easy Pickins which is about a dumb, down on his luck thief who wants to rob an old Cajun woman in her home. Let’s just say, things don’t go as the thief planned and what ensues is entertaining as hell.

Finally, I haven’t started reading Barb Johnson’s More of This World or Maybe Another which I picked up at Faulkner House, but Ms. Johnson’s personal history is so interesting I wanted to support her efforts. She spent 20 years as a carpenter living in New Orleans, and then went back to school to get her MFA. During that time, she won a $50,000 dollar grant, and with the money she chose to produce this set of short stories.