I did it once back in 2000 and it broke my heart. I had, quite literally, a room full of books and it was time to pare down the numbers. First I counted the total number and then by a very complicated process of consulting calendars, Greek oracles, planetary positions, and devising algebraic equations that would make Einstein sob, I threw some dice to come up with a number: 3 and 1.

But that simply wasn’t enough, not even by doubling it. So I tripled the number, rounded it upwards, and then embarked on the task of donating 100 books out of my harem.

I don’t mind admitting it was one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever accomplished. I agonized over it. I fretted about it. I put it off. I might even have swore a little, okay, a lot. I closed the door to the office and didn’t enter again for two months because I couldn’t face the challenge.

Choosing which books would go was like trying to chose which child or close friend to kill. Do I give up A Clock Work Orange (because I really preferred the movie) or do I give up the Faulkner I never did but always intended to finish? And what about Infinite Jest? Am I keeping it because I love it or is it really just a badge of honor for having gotten through the damn thing? The Secret History was a no-brainer, I re-read it about once a year. In the final stretch, I was still 10 books short, I closed my eyes and cleared a shelf. To this day, I have no idea which books went into that box. I don’t care to know either, it would be too painful.

Ultimately, I set a date and one night, fortified by copious amounts of whiskey, I finished and loaded up the truck. One hundred books adds up quick and kills the lower back even quicker. I drove my precious load to the local library and sat stoned face as my invaluable horde was inventoried by crass Philistines who clearly didn’t appreciate what they were receiving.

I remember concentrating on the clock hanging on the wall behind the two goons the library assigned to job. They carelessly threw my lovely children of literature into piles: paperback, nice paperback, hard cover, worthless hardcover. I fought the urge to change their classification to: dear, even dearer still, and that which should be tattooed on the brain. Again, they were Philistines, I hardly expected them to understand. An even more difficult internal struggle was resisting the urge to ask if they had washed their hands prior to touching my “lovelies”.

Alas, they had the pile of books they would keep, a pile to donate to a local school, and “questionable” items that would go in with the cache to be sold at the annual book sale. I nearly murdered them over the label “questionable”. In fact, I was so offended, I snatched back my copy of Oranges by John McPhee and my much-loved, dog-eared copy of A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking, which was fortunate, because although I had the hard cover edition, the paperback had all my margin notes.

Getting back into my car, donation receipts in hand, I fought back the urge to cry. I broke my arm when I was 9 after falling off the garage roof and never shed a tear. Likewise, I had sat dry-eyed throughout I don’t know how many weddings and funerals, but giving up those books tore me in two.

Flash forward 9 years and here I am with too many books again. I swear, these books are like rabbits, they multiply exponentially the second my back is turned. I have no idea how they all got onto my shelves. Some of them I am positive I donated before, so how another copy ended up on my shelves beffudles me. But I’m ready to once again sort through and pare down the numbers.

I don’t know why I’m so dispassionate about it this time around. Maybe because I’m older, and know myself better, I’m less likely to keep a book I only really like for one passage. I’m definitely more picky about books I actually buy as opposed to check out from the library. And I have to admit, I do a lot more research on a book before I consider actually purchasing (thank you Amazon.com and your damn reviewers!).

It’s not unlike relationships. I dated randomly and expansively when I was younger, figured out my type of guy, and selectively dated until I met Sailor Man. With books, it was buy anything, then buy selectively, and now it’s buying strategically. It’s rare that I buy a book these days that I don’t end up just loving. Or maybe it’s best summed up as recovery from a compulsive disorder: binge and purge?

OR maybe these books are ones I have fallen out of love with? Perhaps, but that’s a rumination for another day. I’ve still got a full book case to weed through.

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