About a year and a half ago, I had to tear up my apartment to undo a scourge of bedbugs. I also got rid of my wooden captain's bed and the monkey puzzle of wooden bookcases piled one upon another that had threatened to topple and kill me at any given moment of the previous thirty years, preferably while I was sleeping.
With fewer bookshelves, I had to get rid of a ton of books, which wasn't as traumatic as one might think. Over the last couple of years I've deaccessioned well over a thousand books, probably just less than two thousand, because I simply couldn't stand not having space to move around my apartment any more. I found that getting rid of these things (did something similar with clothes and other knickknacks) made me feel spiritually and psychologically lighter as well.
Originally I broke the books down into three categories: essential (important to me esthetically or emotionally to have around); odd (too big or thick or expensive or rare to borrow or buy easily); and disposable (classics available from many sources, standard bios and other books readily available from the public library).
Anything of resale value was contributed to Housing Works, and the rest joined the informal book street swapping that occurs in NYC neighborhoods. Leave the book somewhere dry and visible and its next reader will find it.
It took two or three applications of the discipline and one mad screaming fit of bedbug shockhorror to get down to my current bookage.
Somewhere in the deaccessioning, swappage and shockhorror I lost track of one of my faves, a hardcover edition of John Cheever's Collected Stories. I missed being able to dip into it as comfort dictated, and realized that there were some other books I'd like to have readily at hand, for pleasure or consolation, or for inspiration and just plain affection.
So I sifted through the masses one more time and created my own 5'x5' Shelf of Best Beloved Books. The name is a small tribute to the Harvard Five Foot Shelf of classic works, to Mary Herczog and to a foolish bear once known as Edmund.
Some faves wouldn't fit this bed of Procrustes. My shelf of books by Patricia Morrison would have added a few linear feet - they are proudly displayed in the living room. Six (non-iambic) feet of poetry occupy the shelf above those. A floor-to-ceiling bookshelf across from that holds books together of a common special interest: WW I, antiquity, films, Zen; as well as a couple of yards of books from the category of the odd, large and hard to replace. Oh yeah, and then there's the 5'x4' Shelf of Expensive Photography Books, and the 3'+3' Shelf of Mass Market Paperbacks That Live Above the Door, and...
So, I am far from book-deprived. But if I'm moving to Iceland, or the Space-Celts come for me (see above), I should be able to pack quickly. In the meantime, it's pleasant to look down my bed to my favorites, before I curse life and turn out the light.
I'm back, BABY!
1 year ago