Sunday, September 27, 2009

Purging the books

Every few years, it seems, some necessity demands removal of superfluous books from the shelves — or books that can be perceived as superfluous, if there are such things. When I was dealt a hand of aces and eights at The Sun in April, I had two cartons of books to remove from the premises. I can smuggle an occasional volume past Kathleen, but an additional bookcase would not escape her vigilant eye. Something has to go.

I am fifty-eight years old, and chances seem remote that I will ever make another run at Finnegans Wake. Off to the used-book sale at the Festival-on-the-Hill in Bolton Hill. Back editions of the Associated Press Stylebook are an easy choice.

But sentiment is hard to eliminate from these operations. I still regret having sacrificed the paperback edition of Philip Larkin’s High Windows that I bought in 1985 at Louie’s Bookstore Cafe while interviewing at The Sun, even though I have the contents in his Collected Poems. And despite the wreckage of my ambition to be an eighteenth-century man, I will not let go of Arthur Hoffman’s book on Dryden’s imagery or his late monograph on the plays of Congreve until I have to pack my bindle for the Old Editors’ Home. Professor Hoffman was a witty and engaging teacher of the old school, and he was kind to me. And I am not giving up Gibbon; one has to have something in reserve for retirement.

Discarding The Structuralist Controversy, however, leaves no pang.

Jane Austen and Barbara Pym stay, but perhaps it’s time to give up on Byron’s Don Juan. Nobody’s touching John McPhee or my ratty but complete paperback set of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. But Gravity’s Rainbow, which I have started four times without ever making appreciable progress, gets the boot. Boswell and Johnson, you may have guessed, are secure. So are Edmund Wilson and John Cheever. And the poets: Roethke, Jarrell, Lowell, Wilbur, Hecht, Kumin, Van Duyn.

But a shadow looms over numerous others.

Some of these books I have carted from premises to premises since the 1970s, with good intentions, but it is in the nature of things that the Long Parliament sooner or later gives way to the Rump. Farewell, my lovelies.