Decluttering, discarding, downsizing… You may well be fed up to the metaphorical back teeth with my ongoing saga of denuding my bookshelves in preparation for a move. And yet, if you’re a booklover — I’m assuming you are one if you’re following a blog dedicated to exploring the world of ideas through books — such talk may induce a frisson of fear. It does for me. But confessional posts like this help me come to terms with the trauma of parting with books, and may even help you when your time comes!
I’ve shunted off several bags and boxes of books to charity shops, and a tiny handful of novels to relatives. I couldn’t bring myself to decimate my collection any more at this stage, though I am being good at letting go of some books as I review them. But, out of interest I thought I would do an inventory, or at least make a rough count of how many books remain. And the total comes to — and I want to make clear there’s absolutely no bragging involved here — one and a half thousand. Well, 1471 to be … imprecise. Give or take a few that I either missed by mistake or miscounted.
Mind you, I’m not including periodicals or journals, of which I’ve already ditched a large number. Nor do I include a number of books, mostly reference, that my long-suffering spouse and I own in common — dictionaries, travel guides and so on. But that’s still an awfully large number. Even if I read at the impossible rate of one a day it would take four years to get through them.
To put it in visual terms, I have approximately 150 feet of shelving (50 yards, or 45 metres if you prefer) which works out at well over twenty-five times my height. You don’t need a maths degree to work out that this works out at an average of ten books to a foot. That’s books ranging from hardback non-fiction to slim paperbacks, but not pamphlets and the like, arranged in a mixed system of types and genres that appeals to me but which would appal a professional librarian. From Celsus (“a library architecture resource”) I see that this comes somewhere in the middle of calculations for volumes per linear foot of library shelf:
|Volumes per Linear Foot of Shelf|
|Children’s Picture Books||20|
Fifteen hundred books. That may well be more volumes than the average British mobile library (though I can’t vouch for the larger North American bookmobiles). It’s as many books as, say, a British school of 150 pupils is likely to house in its library.
Now here’s the question that all right-thinking persons (and quite a few others) are asking: how can one person possibly require that many books?
That’s a question I keep asking myself. And failing to come up with a definitive answer.