Sorting Out

Sorting, an act of destruction of past memories, or a clearing of debris from treasures hidden beneath? Meaningful books emerge to make the act of rejection, of discarding, of throwing away part of one’s past unbearable. Almost like an injury to one’s past experiences.

What to keep? There is the pile in the corner by the window. Don’t become distracted by the rose bush outside about to burst into blooms admired by passers-by. Concentrate on the travel section and decide which books to keep. People have stopped outside to admire the roses. Look at the roses now before they too float into a memory. There is the pile of books to give away. The one over there has some older volumes that may be valuable. In the bookcase upstairs is a collection of all the novels written by Dickens and this edition was printed in 1867, in the author’s lifetime. Would they be valuable? An antiquarian bookseller would know. York is full of them. Where should I begin? At the speed I am going the roses will be shrivelled and gone before even half the books are sorted, let alone disposed of. Our new library will be a limited one because there won’t be space enough for all of them.

Sort them into sections, I advise myself. History, subdivided by geography. India here, Italy there next to France as they are neighbours… Should I keep books in Italian and French when I am the only one who might read them? Well, perhaps…

On either side of the fireplace of the room we fondly call the ‘library’, all the volumes have been cleared away into piles on the floor and are gradually returning. First, the various linds of history of art, landscape or just the past, willy-nilly. I haven’t forgotten the unread novels still in bookcases on the two landings. Will there be room for them? I must hope there is, but fear not. They will be sorted later because I lack the courage to reject any – at the moment. Round it up to five years of reading.

In bed, I now frequently put my head under the sheets to spend a few moments of relief in the ‘don’t want to know’ mode. But as we pass through the longest days of the year and delight in languid midsummer evenings, half-discarded piles of historical works and novels and guidebooks still inhabit shadowy corners. I am trying my best to be hard-hearted. I shall never have the time to read or re-read all these books. If there are four hundred, and I read one a week, that would mean about eight years’ worth … dream on!

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