Books Last week, which is about as exact as time frame as I'm able to give you since, as is so often the case when you take major life decisions and they don't often happen just like that, like the films, I realised I wasn't going to read everything, or watch everything or listen to everything and that this was in fact ok. Ever since secondary school I've had a deep seated anxiety about this which has only grown since the invention of the internet which has meant that not only is there an infinite amount of interesting stuff to read/watch/listen to, that most of it is available, right now.
But my psyche has also been polluted by a general, genuine inferiority complex because, and this also began in the secondary school but only really began to flourish in the late nineties, everyone else seemed to have read everything, watched everything and heard everything even though their lives were only as long as mine, or even shorter. Which put me in the position of wondering what went wrong, or at the very least deciding what I got wrong and dedicating myself to spend the rest of my life catching up.
Which led to a lot of doing one thing when I'd much rather be doing something else. Last week I came to the conclusion, finally, that it's ok to be doing the something else. If I'm interested in film, early modern drama and Doctor Who, it's ok if I've never read The Mysteries of Udolpho and that it's ok to spend the next week or so reading David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson's Film Art cover to cover rather than the next three months trying to crack The Barchester Chronicles however much people tell me they're very good even if I can't make head nor tail of Trollope.
Which isn't to say I shouldn't be open to new things. I've been very much enjoying BBC Four's season about ballet and so will be watching some more ballet. I was given this opera about King Arthur for Christmas. But it's the general sense of needing to work my way through the complete works of Thomas Hardy before I can consider myself a whole person who's not been wasting his life. Even as I type those words, I feel like I'm abandoning all intellectual pursuits. My hands are literally shaking. Except shouldn't it be enough for me to have read and enjoyed Return of the Native once?
So I've had clear out, gone through my books and sent to used book stores and charity shops anything which looks like I feel like I should be reading rather than I want to. That's included some Shakespeare, because having decided to collect the Arden and Penguin complete works, there's little point in keeping other random volumes, of having eighth different editions of Twelfth Night, especially if I've either already read the introductions or have never gotten around to those introductions after letting the book sit on my shelf for five years.
The other strand are books which I've read but will never read again. Online and on onkindle, once something is read, it's generally gone, the useful bits of trivia stored away. With books, there's a natural tendency, especially if we've bought them, to keep them around, just in case, at least for me. Well, there's only so much room for just in case and so I've ruthlessly cleared out a number of "sacred cows", items which I'd never thought I'd get rid of ever but on reflection for all my love, I haven't picked up since I put them down, unless it's to move them to a different shelf.
The process of getting rid of these precious items is motivated and soothed by the internet and that most of it is available, right now. If I do realise I've made a terrible mistake and there is something I'd much rather I'd kept, there's a more than likely possibility I can get another copy. Plus past experience from previous similar epiphanies like the great VHS clearout of 2003 have underscored that you can never legislate for the future. Then I dumped tapes and tapes filled with off-air recording of tv shows which are now readily available in boxes which are a fraction of the same size.
Seven large bags, and I mean the old canvas Habitat bags, have gone. Ruthless. Horrible. Liberating. I now have empty shelves, where once I didn't have enough shelves for everything and had resorted to piling them up on the back of my table, this table with my computer on. Paul Magrs writes here about abandoning books in the middle. This is abandoning the physical objects and it won't stop there. I still have several piles of books in holding pattern and once they're read, or at the very least attempted, they'll be gone too ...