goodbye . . . hello

Say hello and goodbye to about half of today’s ‘to go’ pile.

I had not intended the disposal of my academic books to turn into a wholescale excavation of the existing contents of our bookshelves, but that is what has now happened. When you consider that I have already disposed of over 40 boxes of books; that our shelves are still full to bursting, and that Tom spent much of last weekend building new shelves to house the three-boxes-full that I decided to retain, then the extent of the problem becomes apparent. So, today it was goodbye to Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, and Julian &*(*(&*! Barnes. It struck me, as I flung them onto the ‘to go’ pile, just how much bourgeois shite has been published over the past few decades under the name of ‘British literary fiction’. About the only Booker-winning author that I was genuinely pleased to see was James Kelman (and he doesn’t really count). I also decided, as I culled Paul Auster, and John Updike (shudder), that Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians was about my favourite ‘literary’ novel that has been published in my lifetime. (Excluding crime fiction, which I love, and read voraciously).

As well as getting rid of the turkeys, I said hello to some old favourites:


and discovered some forgotten treasures:

It was particularly nice to rescue Watson’s wonderful Annals from their dusty corner, and place them prominently on a shelf.

I am almost done with the books. Normal business will resume here shortly.

48 responses

  1. when i moved to newfoundland with my young professor husband in 1975, we shipped out 70 boxes of books. when i left the marriage 25 years later i took 1 box of books with me. and have never looked back…

  2. Three cheers for John Fanning Watson! I worked for some years for an antique book/print/map seller in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood, and those volumes were a constant and welcome presence on the shelf. Glad to see they made it through the grand sorting and sifting of the library.

  3. Hurrah for clearing and sorting and finding old friends in amidst the chaos. We are having a sort out too, in advance of some major building works, and I spend most of the holiday on Monday (a local Edinburgh holiday) attempting to wreak some order into my large/overflowing stash of fabric and clothes for repurposhing and refashioning. Two trunks are now reduced to one, and while there is still much sorting to be done, I know from experience that being able to see and access any kind of stash/collection (literary or otherwise), is the only way of remembering what’s there and actually using/enjoying it.

    As for English literary fiction – I quite agree!

  4. Having moved our entire library of over 120 boxes of books three times in the past five years, I am amazed at your fortitude. Well worth the sorting, isn’t it? And what a champ your Tom is to make you more shelves!

  5. As the only child of two english teachers I have finally come out of the closet and admitted the booker prize lists leave me cold year after year. I’m pleasantly surprised so many people agree.

  6. Book management is a routine job around our house, though our collections are nothing nearly as erudite. I never seem to be able to keep the number of tomes in an equilibrium, so we keep adding new shelves as well.

    I agree that much “literary” fiction is overrated, but I do admit to a strong partiality to Kate Atkinson, David Lodge, Aravind Adiga, Glen Duncan, and some A.S. Byatt.

  7. Oh, but it will feel so good at the end of the purge. At least, it does for me. I’m always feeling lighter and inspired. It’s a good place to be.

  8. To me, if it appears on the Booker list, it should immediately be deemed unreadable (with a few, very few, exceptions!). Can anyone tell me if they have read Cloud Atlas and if they have, how they managed to plough their way through the treacle?!!!! I am currently wading and don’t seem to have made much progress…..lost interest VERY early on!

    Anyhow, glad you are culling the pile into manageable and readable amounts! Cx

    • I read Cloud Atlas, and had no idea it was thought of as being literary. I thought it was utter trash. Self indulgent, precious, but utterly lacking in substance. I mean, it’s genre fiction, but not /good/ genre fiction. It still astonishes me that it’s meant to be taken seriously.

      • I am actually very fond of Cloud Atlas. But I also have a fondness for Faulkner who wrote some rather unreadable books and no one doubts his self indulgence. Even friends with compatible literary tastes often disagree so I rarely buy into the notion that a book is bad or good. Often, it’s just not what a person needs from a book. I make exceptions for cases like The Da Vinci Code which only has merits as airport fiction (books to read while on a 15 hour flight and you feel so miserable that you need a distraction to keep from going nuts).

      • Oh. Do not get me started om the Da Vinci Code. I read alot from Mills and Boons to Tomas Tranströmer and everything else. I jumped and bought the book and I was so disappointed. Not in the book, but by the people how recommended it. I mean it´s readable, but good? Haven´t they read anything better? It´s ok for an airport. Or when you don´t have a milkcarton to read from.
        And now to the subject of too many books. I´m planning to buy a kindle. Should get rid of that problem.

  9. I know the problem, but I have solved half of it selling books through amazon & abebooks
    This, actually, just to tell you how interesting your blog is
    Please give a waf to your Bruce from my watson&tilla !
    avec mes amitiés de Picardie,
    martine

  10. I have that same printing of Pnin!

    It’s one of the few books I brought with me when I moved back to the states. (It was the first time I’d moved without breaking my back carrying books).

    There are still tons of boxes to go through in my mother’s basement, sadly.

  11. I know it’s time for a book purge when I find piles of books on the floor and side tables that I can’t cram onto the overflowing bookshelves. My rule is I can only keep the books that fit on the shelves, since I live in a small apartment. I think you’ve just inspired my weekend plan. it’s time to show my books that I’m the boss!

  12. Have you read “A Novel Bookstore” by Laurence Cosse? I think you might like it, it is about “good” vs. “bad” literature.

  13. As a mother who has a basement ( not Nicole’s Mum as above) full of books you inspire me to get this lot sorted. We have boxes upon boxes of cook books, lots of fiction, self improvement ( why we are doing so good lol),school/ university and college collections that are surely out of date etc.etc., everybody’s favourite book of the month for many, many years…time to get rid! Thanks for getting us started on this one. You are doing an amazing job getting your lot sorted…much admiration! I know it will take us ages as we will go down there and start reading!!

  14. You do know about the Kelman controversy, I take it? His winning novel is the lowest-selling Booker winner in the history of the prize (or was back in 2004 when I did some academic tidbit on the Booker prize). After disastrous sales, the big book-sellers ranted and plead and beg that the Man Booker never again be awarded to such an experimental and difficult novel. Cf. the UTTER descend into COMPLETE BULLSHIT shortlists and desperately mediocre and safe winners. The booksellers got books they could flog and the Man Booker truly became the stuff of conservative, safe books you can discuss at great length in your polite book club. Last year – when Tom McCarthy’s “C” was shortlisted – the media heralded as a triumph of the Man Booker to have spotted such a daring, mould-breaking piece of fiction. It was a blooming Bildungsroman with bits of token modernism stuck to it. Don’t get me started on Ian McEwan or Julian Barnes. It’s a disgrace they keep getting called the best living British novelists.

    (sorry, I think this prob belongs on my own blog but AGHR, so many of my buttons were pushed with this entry).

  15. Hah! Well this is all very interesting because I loved James Kelman when I read it (it was a tough read but in the end I was hooked) and I have to say that I really liked the Julian Barnes this year – a slim but also very effective little tome. Watsons’ Annals are new to me so I am off to investigate. Am afraid I can’t be as disciplined as you Kate when it comes to books…one day mebbe..one day….

  16. I often consider books as friends, that is to say that one is meant to go all the way with you when another by great mystery is meant to remain an acquaintance and even may make you wonder what by Jove could you have found in it once. Nobody’s fault, just the evolution of things…
    And your thoughts about all of this book situation makes me go back in time, 20 years ago to be precise. After major brain injuries further to a car accident (different cause, same consequences), the only litterature I could suffer was poetry from Victor Hugo (“Les Contemplations”) and… old Mad comic strips (if you can call it litterature, I agree). Other books had to wait. I have many, many books now but my little red one (Victor Hugo, not the other red one) is still on my shelves easy to locate always at my disposal.
    And by the way, your posts are always delightful, thank you.

  17. Babbitt! I love Babbitt. I had to do a painful amount of bookshedding once, but don’t miss anything that I parted with and I invested the proceeds in a ridiculously expensive desk lamp that still delights me over a decade on. And now it is probably time for me to shed the many books of feminist literary theory that remind me of the PhD I dropped out of more than 5 years ago;: you’re an inspiration!

  18. I agree with blooming Julian bloody Barnes. I also have not much truck with Ian McEwan – something deeply unpleasant at the heart of his writing I always find. Hurrah – kick the bourgeois bollocks out of your life. I’m glad you kept the poetry – I am enjoying reading poems at the moment after a long period of not really thinking about poetry. I loved the last couple of posts about the autumn and the lovely Rilke poem.

  19. Hah, you’re inspiring me to get rid of the Julian Barnes books I never liked. I do have three favorites that I will keep (Metroland, England, England and The Lemon Table), but the rest has to go.

    On the other hand, Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique that I picked up recently will become a permanent addition.

  20. I culled a lot of my 1500 over about 3 years. They were my mine, my mother’s and my grandfather’s and I felt initially that they were my family; but eventually I got over that and removed the ones that I would never read, and those that I would never read again (mainly art, architecture, lit.crit. etc).
    Then about a year ago I realised I had a damp problem and needed to stop double-banking my remaining books, so reduced them down to the authors I wanted to read again, or used as reference (mainly horticulture and botany). Now as the season of damp and condensation approaches again, I begin to think, ‘well, I probably could lost 80% of the fiction without suffering much pain’. Last year I gave all my friends a bundle of books that they could do anything with, except give them back to me.

  21. Wow! That’s a lot of books but I’m right there with you. I have two boxes ready to go to sell to a used book store. I’m done with donating. I’ve decided to read what I want to read, not what’s on some list that somebody else pulled together. Have “they” really read all those books? Or is it really based upon sales? And how many times do people read something because somebody else is, not because they really want to? And when they have finished reading it, do they really discuss it? And, who are “they/”

  22. Oh! I so hear you on the bourgeois shite that has been English literary fiction over the past 15 years. I think this is one of the main reasons that most of the contemporary fiction I read has either been in translation (Murakami – who David Mitchell rips off unashamedly in Number 9 Dream), or SF/Crime. And I did try Philip Roth to see what all the fuss was about, but if I wanted an opinion piece/rant, I’d read the bl**dy Mail.

    I do make exceptions for Kate Atkinson, but perhaps they are crime novels?

    I have to say I have been really enjoying your book excavation posts.

  23. I’m responding to stick up for John Updike. I don’t think its fair to shudder as I would argue that for the most part his writing is marvellous. I hate the literary fiction mafioso who review each others books chummily in a narrow strip of broadsheets but Updike, who is often consider as the progenitor of this sort of thing was someone who deeply loved and respected language and whose style was deceptively effortless. He is the king of ennui and male hopelessness and we really don’t have enough of that.

  24. This may be the worst time to do this, but, since you said you like mystery… Have you found Alan Furst? He is amazing. He writes espionage novels which take place on the Western European continent during 1935-45. SOMEDAY you should pick one up.

  25. The only thing that stopped my book acquisition was moving to a place with no used bookstores. Or none that’d buy or sell the kind of books I wanted to read. That said, I’m considering buying a barn so I can move again without schlepping the mere 40 boxes that I have whittled down to..
    Maybe you’re being a bit too overenthusiastic in your cleanup? I could do without Julian *(*(&^ Barnes too, but I would not get rid of Flaubert’s parrot, which I prefer to some of Flaubert himself, Likewise, Winterston’s first book oranges are not the only fruit is a masterpiece, not totally negated by her later divagations. Ah well. May you too live close to a good library for the rest of your life :-).

  26. So good to hear you axe some of the feted writers! I never liked Auster either. I’ve tried and failed. I was going to say that I like your book posts so much but after reading through the comments I realise that I love them, too. Here’s to intelligent, well-written blog posts and their comments. Cheers!

  27. i used to live with thousands of books. from my very early kindergarten days, when i learned to read, i never was able to let loose. when i was a child, books used to be my friends: they prided entertainment and comfort. they took me around the world, on the moon, in the deepest ocean. when i grew older, becoming the first in my family to reach higher education lever, i found out that books are informations are power. and education is a privilege with books as a medium to transport all those precious informations. so every time i decluttered my home, i suffered from the amount of my books, a lot of them not being touched for years, some of them unread – ernst juenger once said that he always needed unread books around him in order to make new friends in long night without sleep. getting rid of a book was always a NO GO for me.
    three weeks ago, i woke up on a sunday, thinking that i if i get rid of books will not mean that those would die but that they might spread the stored informations. i got out of bed and spent the whole day browsing through my books and finally did let go half of almost 5,000. they’re all gone to libraries and will find new homes where they will fill holes of knowledge.
    books are delicate creations, aren’t they!?

    sab

  28. Love the covers of Watson’s annals also; it would have been awful to discard those in so many ways.

    This Blog entry reminded me of a quote from Tim Buckley ” when something is good and true , it remains good and true forever.”

  29. You have given me the courage to start weeding out all the books that I like to have but don’t really look at or re-read anymore, and I know I can get if I must at the library or on Kindle, much as I prefer turning a page I just don’t want to have all that “stuff” holding me back anymore. Huzzah, Kate!

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