Dmetri Kakmi, a senior editor at Penguin Books Australia, has recently recognized the problem and has done something about it. He's completed a massive culling of his shelves, eliminating everything that he no longer holds in high esteem or which he is not likely to read again. And he claims that he feels better for having done it. I don't know if I will ever have the nerve to take this particular approach with my own bookshelves but I found Mr. Kakmi's reaction to having done it himself to be interesting.
Gazing at the groaning shelves brought on intense anxiety. I felt overwhelmed by the titles, the multicoloured spines, the sheer weight of words and knowledge staring at me from the niche in the wall; consequently, over a month or so, I boxed hundreds of books and offered them to friends, charities and opportunity shops....
I am a bibliophile; I do not approve of getting rid of books willy-nilly. Nor am I inclined to desecrate a book by turning down the corner of a page to mark my spot, or to abandon a novel on a bus or train.
To me a book is sacred and must be treated with utmost care and respect. Like a beautiful house or a priceless work of art, a brilliant book is entrusted to us for the duration of our life and it is our solemn duty to be its guardian and benefactor until we can no longer perform the duty.
That said, I had no choice. The truth was my library had to be culled out of sheer necessity. Aside from the fact that shelf space was at a premium, many of the books had not been read in decades.
A little voice told me most would probably never be opened again, at least not by me. As far as I was concerned, their day had come and gone. Surely, I reasoned, liberating them into the care of someone who will doubtless turn their pages and read them is a kindness, a chance at second life.
Mr. Kakmi realized that he was neglecting his old friends, those books and writers he had enjoyed so much in his younger days, at the expense of lesser writers and books that were crying for his attention simply because they were the "flavor of the day." He determined to do something about that and seems to be enjoying the sheer anticipation of re-reading all the gems that he has put aside for too long.
That does make me wonder if I, since I'm in my fifth decade of reading now, should consider taking a similar approach. I don't think that I have the courage to cull as drastically as Mr. Kakmi culled his own shelves, but at the least I see that it may be time to refocus my reading to what is more important from what is simply more popular.