July 21, 2007

The Culling of the Books

IN A SHOCK MOVE, I've decided that I'm going to cull my extensive collection of books. No, really. I'm going to go through the whole collection and sell the ones I no longer want or need. Stop laughing -- I'm not kidding.

As Loyal Rant Readers know, I am a bit of a book enthusiast, to the point where I deliberately avoid shopping at bookstores because I know that if I enter a bookstore, I will inevitably end up buying several books. Over the years, this bibilophilia has caused me to amass hundreds of books. Most of these are at home in Ohio, on the shelves and in the closet of my bedroom there, but I also have several hundred books in my apartment. Many of these are located in the back bedroom that I never use, and many are in a giant banker's box. While I wouldn't say the state of affairs is patently ridiculous, I would say it's about time to cull the herd before things get out of hand. Books, at least in my life, are kind of like dry-cleaning hangers -- they tend to multiply when I'm not looking and next thing I know I've got bunches all over the place.

Some readers, I know, will remain skeptical of this announcement until I actually go through with it, but I think this time I am really and truly serious. The only question remains: what the devil do I do with all of them?

Now I know I'm damn well NOT going to get rid of my books on business, finance, economics or economic history. Those are important to my work and are thus indispensable. I mean, I've got records of commodities prices going back four thousand years in some of these volumes. Sure, it's entirely possible -- in fact, rather probable -- that I'll never need to draw upon the fluctuating price for grain in ancient Babylonia or commodity prices in ancient Greece, but that's not the point. The point is that I will have the knowledge handy if and when I need it. Why, in 50 years, when I have grandchildren going on about this or that, I'll be able to pull out that knowledge in a jiffy:

That's right, son. 100 drachmas to the mina and 60 minae to the talent. Owned. Besides, as my collection in that arena grows, it will hopefully become at least semi-valuable and sought after, leading to a nice tax deduction for my estate in 70 or 80 years.

I am also not getting rid of my precious history boxed sets, either. Oh, no. The Decline and Fall stays. So does Runciman's three-volume History of the Crusades. The three-volume Klemperer diaries? Mine forever. The seminal history works stay too. Commager & Morris' The Spirit of Seventy-Six stays on my shelves until the end of time.

So what do I plan to scrap, you ask? Well, I have a bunch of books on political science that I haven't read in a while and don't have any interest in reading further, so those will probably go. I have some old travel volumes I no longer need and I bet I can get rid of those cheap. But perhaps the most culling will be done from my paperback collection, where I'll get rid of the science fiction novels and other mind candy that once brought me lots of enjoyment, but are now being wasted just sitting there.

Of course, therein lies the question: how do I get rid of these while still recapturing the little value they have? The hard-covers won't be too much of a challenge -- those I can sell to clever shops like these and I should be able to get five or ten cents on the dollar. But the paperbacks are another matter. Paperbacks are cheap and have practically no value at all, and I would be inclined to sell them at fire sale prices (10 cents to 50 cents per book) if only I could find a buyer. The trouble is that I need cash in exchange; store credit doesn't do me much good, because I'm trying to get rid of the books, not get new ones that will start filling my shelves again.

Simply put, I want to be a paperback seller, but I haven't the foggiest idea of how to go about selling the books, even for next to nothing. Paying for shipping doesn't make much sense either, so that kind of rules out eBay and all the other on-line marketplaces. A yard sale doesn't work either, because I don't have a yard. Oh, well. I'm sure I'll think of something. I'll have plenty of time to think while I'm going through the stacks.

On a related note, I'm going to take this opportunity to post what is perhaps my favorite modern poem, from the poet Clive James.


The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book --
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seeminly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys
The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the blare of the brightly jacketed Hitler's War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretense,
Is there with Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots--
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
"My boobs will give everyone hours of fun."

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error--
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 21, 2007 04:48 PM | TrackBack
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