I did something over the weekend that feels pretty radical to me. I pulled 31 books off my shelves.
It started with three business-related books, one that I had read, two that I had been carrying with me from home to home, imagining I would someday read them. I plumb wasn’t interested in that perspective of business anymore.
What excites me about business isn’t growth or earnings or being able to someday afford to join the vanity space race. It’s the way business can function as an extension of a person’s ethics, can be the catalyst for the change they want to see in the world – whether because of the focus of the business (Bombas socks, for example, which is shaped around donating a pair of socks to someone experiencing homelessness for every pair purchased) or the way the business is run (Patagonia empowers their employees to engage in environmental activism, going so far as to give activism sabbaticals and paying bail should that activism result in arrest).
Then I picked up a fourth book, reread the back cover, put it back on the shelf, picked it back up, and then emailed my older brother to see if he wanted to read it. It was too interesting to let go of and too far down my priority list to imagine actually reading it.
My brother, who also has a meaningful backlog of books, declined.
That’s about when it settled into me, this plan. I went from bookcase to bookcase in our home, quickly grouping all of my books into one of three categories:
1. Books I’ve read and want to have around for whatever reason. Maybe I’ll read/skim them again, maybe I’ll loan them out, maybe it just feels good in that vague and irrational way to see them there.
2. Books I haven’t read but wouldn’t get rid of even if I never read them. The books themselves are sentimental in some way, mostly because of who they came to me through or who they remind me of.
3. Books I haven’t read where any sentimentality comes only from how many times I’ve packed them into boxes to take them to yet another home, still unread.
The other 28 books I pulled all fit into that third category. In the stack are some more business books, a few on communication, a few more on living well by whatever philosophies. Two are novels. And so on. They are, naturally, as varied as my interests.
One more went right into my donate pile. Then a little spring cleaning of a catch-all shelf across from my desk and hey presto! I had two stacks of books that now have an expiration date: Read them by next January or they’re gone.
The process of pulling the books make my stomach churn a touch as a I heard some part of me pipe up in defense of many of the books, an irrational whiny part that likes the identity of being a person with bookshelves so packed that finding space for new books has become a creative challenge.
The gaps on my shelves, too, have left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable; I’ll find something to fill them, some tchotchkes that never made it out of the basement when we first moved here.
Why, why would I do this to myself and these harmless books?
I suppose it boils down to this: I don’t want to carry anything with me just because I’ve been carrying it with me.
(If you wonder if I’ve wandered off the topic of books then gold star, friend.)