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Steven Boykey Sidley

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

On throwing out books

Throwing out books – (not a book review, but something we all have to face, from time to time)

We ran out of bookshelf space. We have been running out for years, maybe decades. Books had ambulated to far corners of the house, in all rooms, climbing higgeldy-piggeldy over each into tottering towers. Something had to be done. These books are us, our personality our history literally writ large. So today the great throw away began – a small lobotomy, a forced amnesia – a diminishment of once great and important artifacts of collective memory.

Things fell apart immediately. I waded in merciless and cruel, excising entire canons РCarl Hiaasen, Jonathan Coe, Julian Barnes, Justin Cartwright, Anne Tyler. Anne Tyler? NO! cried Kate, recently up from her office to join the culling. Within short order we were nearly divorced, Kate grimly holding onto old books I know, I KNOW  she will never ever look at again. We shamedly dumped South African authors (even some people I know and like), one hit wonders, Indian and Chinese multi-generation dramas, once current great non-fictions (Bryson excluded), old masters (even a Faulkner and a lesser known Steinbeck). We agreed on keeping Amis and Ford and Roth and Bellow and Zadie Smith and John Irving and McEwan and Norah Roberts and Zoe Heller, but why? I will never read these again either. Maybe the kids, maybe future grandkids one day.

Not a chance.

And now, with shelves wiped down and smelling like a hospital, shining, partially bare, awaiting the new generation. And the abandoned? Awaiting a hospice pick-up, where they will be read by the dying, absorbing part of my historical pleasures as their last acts on this earth. It makes me want to weep.

Has anyone else faced this horror? How do you do it?


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