h1

Culling the herd

January 6, 2009

The one and only downside to getting a big stack of books for Christmas is that in the post-holiday season you’ve got to find some place to put them. In my house, that’s a bit of a problem. The shelves in the den are already full and my wife refuses to let me invade new territory elsewhere in the house to set up new colonies of books. Refile them, reconfigure your stacking plan, move the other brick-a-brack of the shelves, stand on your head for an hour and to view the storage problem from a whole new angle – try whatever you like, but sooner or later you’ll run out of room. That’s when tough times call for tough measures. You know what I’m talking about: culling the herd.

I know, I know, it’s a painful subject. For bookworms the world over there’s little quite as painful as facing the prospect of having to get rid of pieces of their collection. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read some old rag for a decade or two and have no time or interest in picking it up again. It doesn’t matter if you downright loathe the thing. Most book lovers I know clutch their collections with more ferocity than Smaug perched atop his hoard in the Lonely Mountain. Even the thought of loaning a book to a trusted friend who you know is going to return it safe and sound at some point (I’m looking at you, harrysaxon!) is enough to make a die-hard book buyer a bit antsy. But getting rid of a few books? That’s like having to leave your home – a little piece of you dies. Doesn’t matter if you’re selling them and putting that little bit of cash towards another book purchase. Doesn’t matter if you donate them to the local library or to a charity that’ll sell them and put the money to a good cause. You still have to say good-bye to one of your precious books (Gollum, Gollum – sorry, I had something in my throat for a minute there).

There are even some people out there who are totally incapable of it – I had a buddy in Winnipeg who absolutely refused to give up any of his books, no matter how bad – even old novelizations of “Space 1999” episodes. This made each move more painful than the last – it’s amazing any of us were willing to help him haul boxes of heavy pulp from one apartment to another every couple of years. Truly a militant packrat.

Luckily, I’m not that far gone. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve started The Discard Pile.

The first of the SF-related books to make the cut was Robert Foster’s “The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth“. I bought this back in the 80’s when I’d first discovered “The Lord of the Rings” and was grabbing anything Tolkien-related that I could get. For some reason I’ve held on to it, even though I tend to reread LOTR, “The Silmarillion” and “The Hobbit” every couple of years and know them backwards and forwards. And if there is some piece of minutia about whether some Petty Dwarf made a wrong turn at Albequerque once that I’d have to consult this book about, it wouldn’t be worth my time to do so and I wouldn’t bother. While this book has been a familiar sight on my shelves for a couple of decades, it really serves no purpose anymore and might as well make way for something else.

Next is S.M. Stirling’s “The Sky People“. I appreciate his effort to revive the naive adventures of yesteryear when pretty much every planet was inhabited and dinosaurs were common as deer, and the story moves along quickly enough, but ultimately I didn’t much care once I was done reading it. That seems to be the case with the one or two other solo efforts of Stirling that I’ve read over the years. For whatever reason, his style just doesn’t grab me enough to make it worth buying any more of his books or keeping this one around.

Michael Crichton’s “The Lost World” is also going out. I felt a brief – very brief – stab of guilt for getting rid of this one since the author died not long ago, but it’s certainly not one of his more memorable books. The original “Jurassic Park” was much better.

Colony” by Rob Grant is on the donation pile too. It wasn’t a bad book, in fact, admittedly it did have a funny moment or two. It just wasn’t as good as Grant’s other stuff (especially his Red Dwarf collaborations with Doug Nalor). I can’t see myself reading it again, so…

Matthew Hughes’ “The Commons” was another one that wasn’t bad, but at the same time didn’t really grab my interest. To be fair, I got a real chuckle out of Hughes’ multi-sided pun on the Commons, where the Commons is the name in the story for the human collective unconcious that is explored by people who observe recurring metaphors and archetypes at the risk of becoming lost or going mad. It’s pretty clear that Hughes is making a reference to John Stuart Mill’s famous example of The Tragedy of the Commons, where people who have access to shared, public land will plunder its resources in their own self interest rather than husbanding them responsibly. I think it’s also pretty obvious that Hughes (drawing from his observations from years in Ottawa), in talking about how the Commons can sidetrack a person until they cannot find their way out, is making a joke about the risks of spending too much time working on Parliament Hill. That being said, the various short stories that have been cobbled together to form the novel felt too disjointed. Maybe this is one of those books that might grow on me given another read in a few years, but with too little room on the shelf, I’ll take my chances and maybe give another of Hughes novels a try some other time.

Gregory Maguire got a double-whammy in this purge. I enjoyed “Wicked”, but his other fairy tale re-do’s “Mirror Mirror” (Snow White) and “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” (Cinderella) both earned a resounding “meh”. Gone.

Another twofer in the pile – this time for Charles DeLint. “Spirits in the Wires” and “The Onion Girl” are on their way out. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy DeLint’s stuff once in a while. Problem is, his stories all feel too similar to one another – he’s got a formula that, admittedly, works, but is too annoying in its sameness if read too often: Supernatural critters and spirits from European folklore rub shoulders with North American native powers in some generic city; add a plucky, caring, and usually good-looking group of living at or near the street-level but basically wholesome artsy-fartsy usually 20-somethings and teens who quaff gallons of tea while sharing their feelings; nudge one of these kids into some sort of ill-advised collision with the afore-mentioned sprites (sometimes as a result of a personal problem that’s driven them in the wrong direction); send the rest of the gang off to the rescue, usually with a wise elder to give some backup, and you’ve got a DeLint story. These two books certainly aren’t bad by any means, they’re just not my favourites. And when DeLint’s books are so similar to one-another, there’s no point cluttering the shelves with the ones that aren’t qutie as good as the others.

Lastly, oh yes, it had to happen, I’m finally getting rid of “The Divorce of Buddy Figaro – A Taoist Comedy Novel” by David Silverberg – the most hated book on my shelf. Ever. This waste of paper is so absolutely awful that I’ve considered keeping it just as proof that some of the worst writing ever did actually get published. That’s probably the reason I’ve kept it for the past couple of years rather than pitching it as soon as I was done with it. Proof that I suffered through the whole thing and actually had my sanity at the end of it. But if room has to be made for more books, I’d have a hard time justifying the loss of a bunch of mediocre stories while keeping this steaming pile. I almost feel bad about putting this thing in a pile for donation, but who knows, someone out there might connect with it in some way I’m incapable of understanding. I can’t bring myself to say more power to them, but, well, whatever makes your boat float. At least it’s out of my home once and for all. Good riddance!

That’s my post-holiday bookshelf cleanup. Now I’ll have room for new, hopefully worth-while acquisitions.

What’s your take on getting rid of books in your collection? Are you able to cull them without much regret? Do you feel a pang of guilt when parting with them? Are you one of the few who’s actually unable to do it?

What are some of the SF books you’ve recently culled from the herd? Why did you give them up?

Advertisements

One comment

  1. “Culled”? Like deformed offspring? The horror.

    As learned from my father, I essentially never get rid of a book. Sure, shelf space is limited, but that’s what cardboard boxes are for. Hell, I still have my hardcover Hardy Boys collection in a cardboard box under the eaves of my parents’ place; I still have boxes of college texts in the closet, along with a set of 1985 World Book encyclopedias. With me to the grave shall they all go.



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: