All those people who say 'I never throw books out' or 'Oh no I could never throw a book away no matter how battered it is.' Those people? They haven't been buying books for 40 years and they haven't spent a good chunk of their inheritance on impulse book buying and they especially have not had someone wish ten UPS boxes of manga on them. I have. I did. The results are not pretty.
When I came home from Japan the first thing I did- instinctive grief management- was to impose some order on all my books, which meant taking them from the seven rooms they were scattered through and culling sheep from goats and putting them back on the various bookshelves by category. The goats- the books I wasn't going to read immediately or read again soon or possibly read ever but they might come in handy some day (two thick volumes of Recent Japanese Stage Design? Sources of the Meiji Constitution? Musashi in hardcover?) went into boxes and the boxes went down to the basement where my kind tenants had erected open Ikea shelves to put them on. In the basement already were a box of my grandfather's 1890's French books (the rest, I later discovered, were in the garage where the mice ate them, so at least they served some purpose), my parents' 78 records, and a bunch of ancient family photo albums and scrapbooks from my childhood.
And all was well, and all was well, and all was very very well. At least on the book front. Grief management then inspired me to start lifting linoleum, but that's another story.
Ten and a half years later I'm looking for a particular book that memory says is in the basement. I go through box after box after box, not all of which have slept undisturbed through the years. It isn't there. I go to look at the upstairs bookshelves just in case I left it there. I have a genetic weakness called Johnson Spot Blindness that allows me to look right at the object in question and not see it. So I have to visualize the book as close as I can and then mentally read the titles of books in that range as I'm looking. The book I remember to be a hardcover and not too thick. I read the book titles on the four book cases in my study (east asian everything), the two boxes of books in the corner (mistakenly thought to contain papers), the two bookcases in the middle room (biography and varia), downstairs in the front room (history and goat-manga), the kitchen catch-all bookcase (fat genre paperbacks and unread hardcovers) and even in the bedroom where nonfiction is supposedly not allowed (grammar books excepted.)
I can't find it, and I can't find his other book, so I suppose there's another box somewhere else where there are yet more books, and right now I'm feeling a vague horror and claustrophobia over the sheer numbers. Times like this I think the Buddha was right: possessions weigh the soul. I want half those books out of here and there's nowhere to take them. (Don't suggest bookmooch. I've checked a random sample of what I have against bookmooch and no one wants what I own. Besides, bookmooch is a trade and I don't *want* more books. I want *fewer.*)
I can live with Japanese stage design in my basement. You never know when something like that will come in handy. But I'm starting to wonder if I really need Witchworld on my bedroom shelves, or an analysis of 19th century popular French culture in my living room. Will I ever read Norton again, or the French ever? My reread history hasn't been happy, and the stuff that pleased me in the early 80's has signally failed to live up to the memory. Besides, those early Daw books age badly- paper brittle, binding glue dried out. No second-hand store will buy them; it's a question how long they'll survive as is. Much less will they buy odd fantasy collections from the 70's and 80's with a winner or so and a lot of duds. (Read a couple of those last night. Gave me a vague oppression of soul. 90% of everything is crap, yes.)
We won't even talk about the manga. I have them, there's nowhere to get rid of them, end story. I envision an enormous river of paperbacks, broad as the Ganges, running through the world; and like any river, carrying great wracks of garbage and human waste on its flood. I suppose I can stick some of my dreck acquisitions out for the paper recycle, to be put to some kind of good use. But the rest sit here, weighing my soul; and bonfires, alas, are forbidden in the city. Hell, I don't even have a fireplace.