This morning, I came across an essay written by Danny Heitman that immediately caught my interest and resonated with me. It begins:
“The other day, as the weather warmed and my thoughts turned to spring cleaning, I took a deep sigh and braced myself to weed my bookshelves for another year. I like that word, weeding, to describe the culling of books no longer wanted from a personal library. It reminds me that books, like an errant patch of clover or a winding strand of jasmine, are wily things with lives all their own.
We like to think that books line our shelves because we ask them inside, but the simple truth is that they cross our thresholds whether we invite them or not. Books alight under the Christmas tree or beside a birthday cake as presents from people we love. Like a thistle hitching a ride on the household dog, books attach themselves to our palms as we walk through bookshops or rummage sales.”
I cannot say enough how much I love the imagery of my personal library as a garden, with myself as the landscaper. I have mentioned many times that I buy books at an alarming rate, shoving aside framed photos and knickknacks to make more room on my shelves. It is far rarer for me to let books go, even if I know that I probably won’t ever read them again. I will make a half-hearted effort to go through my books every now and then, but the books pulled from my shelves are few and far between. Typically, those books are immediately taken to Bookman’s and traded for new titles.
Heitman’s stance has encouraged me to do a far more thorough job in the near future. I always felt like discarding a book meant I didn’t love it, or was somehow insulting the author, but I think my view may be shifting. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, or even that I don’t appreciate it any more (though that may be true in a very few cases); all it means is that I’ve outgrown it one way or another, and I’m giving it up so that someone else can find it and experience it for themselves. Obviously, I’ll keep and cherish my favorite book “blossoms”, but I shall need to make a concerted effort to clear away the dead or unwanted plants in order to let newer, more beautiful flowers to take root. (Okay, I now seriously have this painting in mind of a book garden — perhaps I’ll try to create it on canvas!)
To read Heitman’s whole essay, which I recommend, click here.