Culling the personal library

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This got lost last week during the short work week and subsequent tryptophan haze. The Guardian's Stuart Walton talks about culling his personal library:

According to one way of looking at the problem, a personal library is an enormous accumulation of books you don't want to read – either because you once tried and failed, or because you've already read them and won't ever need to reread them. So what function are they actually serving?

I have a minimalist streak that's been particularly close to the surface lately for some reason, so this strikes a nerve. But for most people I think the degree to which the size of their personal library troubles them (if at all) is a function of how much space they have to store it. Once those books start spilling onto the floor, under couches, etc, it's time to think about why you're hanging on to them. But as long as you have the space, why not keep them? I still have some spare shelf space at home so this hasn't been a problem for me yet, but I suspect I won't have trouble weeding out my collection when the time comes.

What Walton doesn't address is the function of books as signals of taste. Whether we've read them or not, having certain types of books on our shelves makes a statement. I know every time I visit someone's place for the first time, the nosy part of me checks out their books and passes judgment.