I own a lot of books and I own different ones for different reasons. I’m going to have to get rid of nearly all of them soon and I find myself stumbling over how different those reasons are from each other. That’s what this post is about.
The default date Bette and I have chosen for moving out of our home here in Southwest Portland and moving into a retirement center of some sort is 2017. That isn’t a hard date. It’s the time when we want to be ready to move—we’ve chosen a place and made some early payments and located ourselves at the top of whatever list we want to be on—not the time when we absolutely will move. Still, I am mindful of my father’s often-repeated maxim that it is good to “pre-think the inevitable.”
Wherever we move, we will have something like a fifth of the space for books that is currently occupied by books where we live now. We need to get rid of four fifths of our books. It’s hard to say it out loud and take it seriously.
That brings me to the question of why I have the books I have. Some of the books I have are biographically significant. I have the revised edition of Dolbeare and Edelman’s American government text, which has a nice little recognition of me in the acknowledgements and the substantially different treatment of the federal bureaucracy that I had asked for. That doesn’t seem like a book I should get rid of. I have the copy of Jim Davies’ Human Nature and Politics which I was reading when I called him at the University of Oregon and told him I was blown away by the book and wanted to do doctoral studies with him. That’s what got me to Oregon. I have my brother John’s signed copy of his Galapagos: Exploring Darwin’s Tapestry, which, in addition to being a well-conceived, well-written, and beautiful book,acknowledges my contributions to its present form. I’m not going to give books like that to the Salvation Army.
I have reference books. I have a lot of reference books. Most of them are biblical commentaries or cribs of one kind or another. Some are etymological collections I couldn’t find elsewhere.. And there are some reference books that you really need to have within arm’s reach, even if you could go to the library and find them.
I have books I read over and over. If I designed a graphic like this Venn diagram, the red spot would be a great deal larger. I read The Lord of the Rings over and over. I read the four Lord and Lady Peter Wimsey books quite a bit. I read Ursula LeGuin’s Hainish Trilogy and EarthSea books. And other, less respectable collections as well. I want to keep the books I read over and over, no matter how big the red spot gets.
The political science books that I have kept around as markers for a path I might be moved to take some time will have to go. It won’t be hard to do without the books, but it will be hard to say out loud that I will never actually pursue this or that very interesting path of inquiry. Evolutionary psychology will probably fall into that category, as will brain studies, world culture conflicts, and nearly everything about contemporary politics. The books on the psychology and sociology of intimate relationships, about dating and true love (not the same thing, in my experience), and histories of marriage in the West since the Industrial Revolution, will have to go. I will make an exception of Gary Chapman’s The Five Languages of Love because it has been such a good book for Bette and me and because it is about the need to find and learn the language your partner understands best.
No more new novels in paper form. Probably Kindle books or whatever has replaced Kindle by that time. Or I will buy them and read them and pass them along. And then if I have to read them again (that red spot), I will try to get one from the library.
So—as you can see—it isn’t the books that make this hard. It’s the rationales. I have become the person I am in large part by reading and internalizing the information and the arguments in these books. Now I’m going to have to find out how well I do without the books. The reasons for having books are so powerful; the reasons for not having them seem, somehow, weaker.
Well Dad, it’s time to “pre-think the inevitable.” Maybe I’ll start on it tomorrow.
 We have looked at a few places. There are some very good places in Portland. But now we run into decision criteria, like is “good enough” really good enough or does it have to be the best of the available options? Do we want the best place or the place with best access to downtown Portland? We haven’t looked at a place I couldn’t be happy, but where I am living has never been the biggest single determinant of whether I’m happy.