I personally can't think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book. ―Helene Hanff, 84, Charing Cross Road
I knew it was coming. The moment when Marie and I would go fisticuffs over my book collection. Well, it's here and it ain't pretty. My first instinct was to just skip over her book section and move right on to sorting papers—my true nemesis—but, alas, if I'm being honest with myself, I must admit I may be a borderline book hoarder in need of a little help.
So I broke down and bought a new book (keep your snickering to yourselves) and dove in, with as open a mind as I could muster. Trust me, it took a lot of mustering just to make it through the first couple pages of the section, but I persevered. Until I read this:
Once you have piled your books, take them in your hand one by one and decide whether you want to keep or discard each one. The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. (I'm still with her...barely...until these next three sentences.) Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don't start reading it. Reading clouds your judgement.
Whaaaat? Did I read that correctly? Or maybe reading is clouding my judgement. I'm to keep a book based on how I feel touching it, not reading it. We are talking about books, right? Credibility is flying out the window at this point, but still I muster on. The next thing I know, she's coming for my stack of books waiting to be read. I suppose for her that stack is unsettling. For me, it's pure joy. I'll throw her a bone here though. There are a few books in that stack I'm thinking I'll never end up reading, so I've decided to part ways. Score a small victory for Marie.
It's a short-lived one, however, as she tries to convince me I'm never going to finish Anna Karenina. "There's no need to finish books that you only got halfway through. Their purpose was to be read halfway." Do you hear that? That's Tolstoy rolling over in his grave.
And then folks...well...she dares go where no book lover in their right mind would even conceive of anyone going. She introduces what she calls the "bulk reduction method." Yes, it's as horrifying as it sounds. Realizing that in some instances it wasn't the book she wanted to keep, but rather certain information or sentences in the book, she decided (you may want to sit down for this) "to rip the relevant page out of the book" and keep it in a file. Sacrilege! Cue the collective gasp of bibliophiles everywhere.
Here's a woman who loses sleep over the treatment of our socks, yet heartlessly defiles books by the dozens, rendering them useless to other readers. It's as if she doesn't have room to keep an entire painting, so she tears off her favorite part and discards the rest. I'm at a loss for words.
Clearly, Marie and I are at an impasse when it comes to my books—as in she's not allowed anywhere near them. I'll stick with Helene Hanff's approach instead (mentioned in the quote at top of post) and give away any mediocre books languishing on my shelves—undefiled. The bad books never made it to a shelf in the first place. My shelves will soon be lined with only books I love and those I plan to read, or yes, finish one day. Anna Karenina, I'm coming for you.