Sunday, 22 June 2008


When you have lived in the same place for twenty-six years you have accumulated mountains of worthy possessions. Especially when you have lots of storage spaces such as large attic and basement, garage and tool shed, and several wardrobes of various size. You just put in things that you don’t want right now “just in case”. Over the years, all these places get overloaded with things you don’t want, have never wanted and will never want, but don’t have the heart to throw away. Or are just plain lazy.

When we went to California for what we thought would be a year but extended into two, we gave away sixty large paper bags of books to a library, taken fifty huge garbage bags to the recycling station and threw away everything that was broken or half-broken that we had kept “just in case”. When we came back we did the same all over again. Books are the biggest problem as we don’t only buy books in unreasonable quantities but get them signed from diligently writing friends and from publishers who hope for reviews.

Now we must be sensible. The motto comes from the evergreen Three men in a boat: “not what we can do with, but only what we cannot do without”. It takes time to look at each one of hundreds upon hundreds of books and decide whether you can do without it. Some are dear friends with sentimental memories; some are indispensable for work – these are easy. Or are they? What was once indispensable may not remain so, a subject is exhausted, the focus of interest has shifted. You thought once that you would probably need the book again, but in fifteen years you haven’t touched it. “When in doubt throw it out”. I assume that English fiction will be easy to get hold of in England. I assume that the university library will have professional literature I may need. I know that has all the books you may ever need and a million more. Still it is hard to part with books. Maybe now that I will have more spare time (ha-ha!) I will finally get to read Remembrance of things past.

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