Trimming Book-Fat #1

Searching for the end of the bookshelf and the belt line with K.M. Zahrt

I have a problem. I have an area of my life in which I’m a hypocrite. Yes, only one. I’m not confessing to other weaknesses at this time. Only this one: I’m a bibliophile. But, wait, wait, wait, it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s simply “a person who loves or collects books” (Dictionary.com). Yes, check-check. (Hangs head in shame.)

So, where does the hypocrisy come from? 

I also self-proclaim myself to be something of an amateur minimalist (perhaps “aspiring” is more accurate). I like to keep things lean and practical. I like to get rid of excess. Okay, okay, there are two areas of my life that have escaped these strictures — (1) my waistline, and (2) my bookshelf — until now.

Now that I’m 30 years-old, it’s time to get in shape. It’s time to trim the fat. This series will be about the journey to the end of my bookshelf. I’ll be working on that other issue as well, and I’ll let you know of my progress, but only on the occasion that’s there’s progress to report. Irregular as those efforts might be, they can’t be trusted to provide a firm foundation for a monthly column.

Let me give you a picture of the situation: We have two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in our house that are stocked at nearly 90% capacity. Wife and I have each accrued books from graduate programs, from gifts, and of course, from acquiring titles we simply couldn’t live without, or so we thought.

I’ll admit part of my irrational problem is that I don’t trust my memory, nor my reading lists, to capture all the titles that are worth reading, but I won’t take all of the blame. If they stopped publishing new, worthy titles every year, it wouldn’t be so hard to keep track. Regardless, in the past, if I came across a good or even marginally fair deal on a book I knew was on my ever-growing reading list, I’d pick it up thinking, I won’t neglect to read this now that I have a copy.

That simply hasn’t worked. Whenever I’m in need of the next read, I start to go through our collection, but I’m inevitably distracted by something newer or more interesting at the time. Part of it is that I start thinking, I have that book on my shelf, so I’ll get to it eventually. I better go after this other book right now, instead.

See, quite the dilemma.

Not anymore. Not this year. Not in 2015. This year, with this series serving as both motivation and accountability, I’m going to go through all of the leftovers, with (of course) some ground rules:

  1. Singular works of fiction and nonfiction, excluding editions and compilations. Yes, I’m still avoiding massive volumes like The Best American Essays of the Century edited by Joyce Carol Oates
  2. Books acquired by my historian feminist wife. I won’t exempt myself from exploring titles such as Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection by Debora L. Spar. Luckily, some of her titles also include books like Yes Please by Amy Poehler.
  3. Religious texts and devotionals won’t count, but singular works on theological topics will.
  4. Textbooks won’t count, either. I’m not going to re-read that Deviance and Social Control textbook for this experiment. Come to think of it, I should dump it anyhow. Which brings me to my next point…

Each month, as part of this bookshelf shred, I’ll give away at least one book that I’ve already read to a person who might be interest in becoming its next reader. Let’s face it, if I ever get around to reading that book again, it shouldn’t be that hard to find a copy. I should start going to the library instead of to the bookstore anyway. So, here’s the scoreboard:

Neglected Books Read: 0
Read Books Given Away: 0
(And, occasionally) Pounds Lost: 0

In terms of reading selections, I’ll try to make interesting pairs, i.e. books that may have some overlap in terms of subject or are tangentially related in some way. I’ll let you know which books are on the docket for the next month, in case you want to join me on my quest. Ultimately, I’ll be reporting on: What’s the take-away? What can be gained from not neglecting the books of the month? And, were there any interesting connections between them? Did they inform each other in some way? Or, is there good reason to discard them and never look back?

So, here we go. Next month’s titles:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

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