Yesterday evening I went through my bookshelves. The purpose was twofold: dust and tidy, plus purge where possible. It took a very long time -- almost the entire duration of three movies shown on TV (which, admittedly, were a little distracting at times). But eventually I flicked that duster over the last patch of shelf and restored the final tome to its rightful place of rest.
The thing I was most struck by was the sheer number of books I haven't yet read. Indeed, many I had completely forgotten were there. Both novels and non-fiction works fell into this category. So many novels I have bought with the intention of reading them some day -- whether they are by favourite authors, or have been recommended, or have merely taken my fancy. Despite their number, just about none made it onto the pile-to-be-purged.
I also have a fair few non-fiction books -- an eclectic mix of books on things such as weaving, or herbal remedies, or architecture, or heraldry, or mythology etc. Most have been bought by me (or given as presents) as resource material for writing fantasy. The theory is that flicking through them might spark an idea, or add texture to the created fantasy world . . . if one was to actually spend time flicking through them, that is. Very few of these made it on the pile-to-be-purged either. Despite the fact that everyone knows research on specific topics is conducted via the web these days. Nevertheless, who knows when they might come in handy?
As I sorted through the mountain of books, I spent quite some time contemplating whether or not I should keep those I had read. On what grounds does one keep them? If it's the likelihood of reading them again, then I should be rid of most of them. No matter how many I would love to re-experience, there are so many other books out there (and in fact on my bookshelf) that this would seem a poor use of time. Nevertheless, I still kept far more than I chucked out -- maybe for nostalgic reasons, perhaps in the hope that I may have the opportunity to re-read them, or possibly even so I can lend them to friends.
It's an interesting conundrum, particularly in a world that is markedly shifting to e-books. If I could magically transfer the contents of all my books to electronic format would I be happy to evict them from the lounge room? Don't know. Perhaps some I would, but I'm fairly sure that there are still many I would like to keep in full view. After all, if I forget what's there when they're staring at me in the face, how much worse will that be when they're just files on a computer?