Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Purge of the Day: Books—86 more of ‘em!

Hey, folks! Jonathan here with another scintillating post.

I sold my first book through Amazon Marketplace on April 14, 2009.  It was Survivor, by Chuck Palahniuk.  This was my first unofficial purge.  Not to brag, but I have sold 255 more books, DVDs, or videogames since.  (Side note: Amazon Marketplace is a very good place to sell stuff—they take a reasonable-ish commission in exchange for selling on the country’s largest retailing website, which means that anything popular I’ve put up for sale with a lowest price has sold literally overnight.)  My initial motivation for this pre-Purgetimes purge was three-fold: 1) We desperately needed to reduce our stuff-load in our not-tiny apartment (this was two apartments ago), and much more of the stuff, particularly the unnecessary stuff, was mine; 2) I’d been laid off a few days earlier and we desperately needed money, any way we could scrounge it (and just not buying more books and DVDs wasn’t the way to go, I for some reason needed explained to me); and 3) Molly thought it would be good for me to learn to part with things that I had no reason to be attached to, even if I was attached to them.

I really was attached to them, though.  I didn’t really like Survivor; I sort of liked it.  But I had read all of Chuck Palahniuk’s books (to that point), and, more importantly, I owned and displayed on my bookshelf a copy of all of Chuck Palahniuk’s books.  I made this a habit, actually, with authors I liked/thought would be impressive to like.  Now my bookshelf was showing a gaping hole where Chuck Palahniuk’s second novel should have been, and I was, well, bothered by it.  Two more of his books, Lullaby and Invisible Monsters, sold later that day and the next day, respectively, along with a few DVDs and This Side of Paradise.  Wait—I was selling an F. Scott Fitzgerald book?!  How could I do that?  F.!  Scott!  Fitzgerald!  What self-respecting writer would sell his only copy of Fitzgerald’s debut novel (even if he didn’t care for it)?  This one, apparently.   But why did it bother me to do so? 

For one thing, I was definitely worried that someone would come into my home, scan my bookshelves, and be like, “You aren’t a real artist, intellectual, writer, or college graduate.  I can tell because you are missing three of Chuck Palahniuk’s books, and you only have one F. Scott Fitzgerald book in your collection.”  I knew it was pretty likely, too—people are always coming into your home and judging you based on what’s on your bookshelf.  And also how it’s organized.  Or is just my house?  Wait—is it nobody’s house? 

It’s pretty easy to recognize the silliness (let’s be kind, shall we?) of this insecurity when it’s broken into and broken down this way.  It’s beyond silly, though—it’s embarrassing, too, but also deeply real, and persists even though I’m now well aware of it.  Among the 86 books in this most recent purge were a couple of comic collections that I liked (Mark Millar's Wanted) or sort of liked (Mark Millar's Spider-Man) or didn’t like at all (Mark Millar's Authority), but that I was sure helped to make the breadth and depth of my comic book collection appear well-rounded.  I’m just not really sure who I was hoping to impress (and if I’m still hoping to impress them by listing my titles here in a post that’s meant to be about getting over this issue).
the descending scale of Mark Millar goodness

But it’s not just that I’m hoping to appear to be the snobbiest of collecting snobs.  It also bugs me when something’s missing from the middle.  I keep thinking to myself, “We should really pick up the TPB of Y: The Last Man, Vol. 10,” even though we have the individual issues and a digital copy, neither of which has ever been reread.  But we have the first 9 volumes in paperback, all in a row, on a shelf, and it seems to cry out for completion.  I know I’m not alone in this compulsion, but why does it bother me so much? 

I have found two general reasons that I am compelled to collect:

1) To convey the above-detailed sense of intelligence and snobbish superiority to mystery visitors. 

2) At its heart, collecting is about creating order and a sense of control.  There are any number of reasons I haven’t felt in control of my world over the years, the intimate personal details of which I will not bore/intrigue you with.  And my collecting began long before my collegiate desire to fill bookshelves with glorious hardcover goodness—it began, actually before I was born.  My father, supposedly anticipating me but probably just wanting to play with toys, bought a bunch of GI Joes the year before I was born.  The next year, I was born.  Two years after that, I discovered the Joes hiding in a closet while my mother retrieved a vacuum cleaner from said closet (they were opened and played with, and not just by my older sister—I’m looking your way, Dad).  Over the next eight years, I (with the help of adults) collected literally every single GI Joe character that Hasbro made before shutting down the line (not doubles of the same character—that would just be crazy—but every…single…character).  They now live in my dad’s attic (which serves him right), awaiting, I’m sure, a tearful but unavoidable purge at some point. 

baby's first amphibious personnel carrier
I’ve also, over the years, taken to using my books to create a sort of narrative for my life.  I remember, almost without exception, where I bought each book and where I read it.  I don’t always remember exactly when, but I can definitely tell you the order in which I read them.  So there’s something a little scary about getting rid of the books, as if I’m creating gaps in this peculiar personal history I’ve created for myself. 

One solution would be to keep a record of the books, a book journal, which is a thing that exists and can be bought and would both neatly catalogue my reading adventures and fit neatly on my bookshelf.  I haven’t ever done this, nor did I make any effort to create some sort of substitute for the books I was selling.  I kept records of my earnings, and Amazon has records of the orders, but I went ahead and made a clean break.  And it wasn’t a difficult decision to not devote more time or energy to patching together some sort of emotional replacement for the books, which only means (all together now) that they weren’t really that important to me. 

As with all purges to follow, the most difficult part was getting started.  Once they were gone, I was able to start to understand why I had irrationally thought I would miss them, and more importantly, I realized I didn’t miss them at all. 

And so concluded Phase One of book purging.  Phase Two was a different beast, because it involved getting rid of books I genuinely liked.  The rub here was that, given the time, I would want to reread many of these books.  The second rub here was that I would never have the time to reread all of these books.  I own, I’m pretty sure, only one novel that I have read more than once.  It’s The Great Gatsby, and there is only Gatsby, so it should serve as a big, flashing light that not all books deserve to be reread.

the one and only
This is a difficult thing to wrap my head around, and is, I think, one of the first ways in which I’ve accepted my mortality.  No, seriously.  There are a million relatively unimportant things I want to do in my life, including rereading lots of these books and playing my remaining three guitars and writing every idea I’ve ever had to completion and playing with all of my GI Joes and watching 162 regular season Yankees games every year, but I do not have all the time in the world.  I will not get to reread all of these books at some future point where my life is made up only of leisure time.  There is no such time.  There are no more summer breaks.  (Whoa.  Bummer.  Sorry, guys.) 

I only drag us all down the path of super depressing shit because I think it’s been a key revelation in my continued purging, and the main goal of all purging, in my view, is to simplify one’s life.  It seems only sensible that in the face of limited time, I should clear my life of clutter and accept that I will probably not reread any of the books I have sent off to Amazon to sell on my behalf through their Fulfillment by Amazon program (which, side note: I only halfheartedly endorse—many more commissions and fees).  And if I ever decide that I really want to reread Joe College, I’m sure someone is selling an old copy of it on Amazon.  

1 comment:

Snarky said...

This is a fascinating post. It's solidified something I've been coming to terms with as well-- it's okay if you don't have an impressive library in your home. Truthfully, I'd like to get to a place where I own no physical books, but then I always go back to worrying that I'll look like a dummy.