Sounds a bit like a parody of a Stephen King novel from 1983. But I took advantage of the relatively free nature of this weekend (no freelance,no visitors,no vacation,beautiful weather) to get started. To clear off the dining room table and start filling it with books to dispose of. And for something that seemed to be so simple at first,this weeding has become more and more difficult as it goes on,especially when I look back at the bookshelves and they still seem to be overflowing.
Intellectually I understand that this should be easy. I’ve made peace with getting rid of a portion of my things. I know from past experiences that I will barely miss these the items that I get rid of;I have had almost no moments of regret from the last few years of culling. I know that if worst comes to worst I can re-acquire things that leave an aching hole in my soul,and that much of the older material will possibly be re-issued in an even better format. And I know the amazing feeling that will come when I walk into a home that,while still full of books,is not aggressively drowning me in four-color art and print.
But oooooooohhhh the anxiety…
The anxiety seems to come from a variety of places. Part of it is the impulse to use these books,this library,to define who I am. Do I keep all of the art-comix so that I am au courant? Do I keep the old,nostalgic super-hero comics of my youth or do I purge all modern cape-&-cowl books that don’t have an emotional response anchored in childhood? All these various aspects of this collection are meant to reflect on me and my personality and my likes. What does it say about me if I get rid of them? Am I getting rid of those parts of my “self”?
There is also the sense of breaking the chain of custody,the collector’s mentality. I enjoy gently mocking the many wonderful geek personality quirks,mainly because I am aware enough to see them reflected in myself. But one that always brings the evil specter of condescension out in my words is when I talk about the completest mentality. I look down on the impulse to continue to buy every single thing in a series after enjoyment has left,but I still find myself doing it. There still exists a sense of needing to see something through or not wanting to break up a set,no matter how I find myself able to laugh at that impulse in others.
With my book collection I fight this completest impulse in a few ways. One is fighting the impulse to need every single book by a specific creator. Part of me needs the entire cannon. Every single,every ep,every boxset. Ever comic,every graphic novel,every short story,every collection. But you realize that they aren’t all good and you try to put the mediocre volumes on the sell pile,but it hurts. I’ve tried to find a balance,and “allow”myself certain authors to be obsessive over. But I’ve even gotten rid of some of my Alan Moore books and my Grant Morrison is far from complete. I even only own ONE of Chris Ware’s self-publish books on ragtime sheet music. For some people it is easy (I’m not a huge fan of Lewis Trondheim’s more child-directed work,but it was difficult to pull his lesser autobiographical works) and for some it is hard (getting rid of Gilbert Hernandez’s more surreal works).
There is also a problem with getting rid of items that I am proud for have collecting. An example,I have a complete run of the anthology series A1. This was a British anthology that I ran across in the late ’80s (how I don’t know) and bought because it had work by a wide range of creators I loved,both British and American. It went through a variety of publishers and formats,including a series of four issues published by Marvel Comics,and over time I tracked them all down;some while they were being released and some years later. But what am I going to do with them? I haven’t read them in awhile. The quality of work (and binding) is inconsistent. Part of me says it is time to let them go,but I put in all that work to get them;all that work that impresses no one but myself.
And I admit,another thing that makes this all so hard is to admit what it really means and reflects on me as far as monetary investment. I spent money on all of these things,and while I have gone over and over in my mind that it is okay to look on it as fleeting enjoyment,like a movie or a play or a meal,it still seems to my own lack of self-control spitting in my face. And there is still future investment as I do pre-order some books through a mail order company,so there are still books coming my way over the next few months that reflect my state of mind from before this last effort to weed. So I’ll continue to be reminded of my “mistakes”through at least the end of the year,but I hope I can use those reminders to help me keep the future spending even more under control [and it is 1000% times better than it was two years or so ago].
So I keep at it. Two days of filling a desk and I’m gonna try to go back for more,for one last little push. Then box it all up and try to figure out the next steps for getting this all out of my house. Some will go to friends. Some I’ll try to sell to eBay or Amazon. The majority will probably go to the used book stores in bulk.
And then the long process of buying and reading and keeping and selling continues. And hopefully each time I go through this cycle I get a little bit better.