Sunday, February 6, 2011

Letting Go, or The reader's priorities

I ran out of room in the library. Truth to tell, I ran out several months ago and have been piling books on the floor since then.

I had a backup plan: My youngest son was to have moved out by now and I could take over the bookshelves in his room (I've already occupied the shelves that already exist in the other kids' rooms). But he's still here.

I've had another option: two shelves of old electronics in the library that I could winnow down to, well, nothing (or close to it). That would give me space for four empty book shelves.

Since the beginning of my book reading mania, I've also bought more books than I could read and that "unread library" is also filling shelves. So I started a cull. Mostly what went were history books and non-fiction. About ten years ago, I realized that I read mostly non-fiction and that if I truly wanted to understand the world I lived in I needed to start inhabiting other people's minds. Initially, I guess that I figured that I would, eventually, go back to those books but--realistically--that's not going to happen: I have, as they say, moved on. So I cut about seven shelves of my "unread library" down to four and what was left in the shelf space that used to be occupied by the electronics. I also, by re-jigging a bookcase, opened space for a new shelf. I've probably got eight empty shelves * 2.5 feet = 20 feet. That should keep me for awhile.

Many books I could dispense with because I'm not the guy who bought that book any more. Others were on the shelf for sentimental reasons: to honour my parents/wife/children. I realized that I could be far more active about honouring them in speech and action than in keeping books I'll never read that are associated with them.

I'm also a list driven reader: I read because I'm working through some plan. So, for other books, the rule I used was: "By the time that I get through all the books between me and this book--will I have found other books that I will want to read before this book?" If the answer was yes, it meant that even when I got to that book, I wouldn't have gotten to that book.

Readers are like that, also. Readers will make value judgments about what we write and decide what they will read and when. If we write material that is of such low value to the reader that our readers will always have something  more valuable to do--well, we're just wasting our time. And, by forcing the reader to sift the low value material from the high value material, wasting their time also.

But there's a second issue here. Let's say we write something that is of high value to our readers. How will our readers know? Since our readers will not be reading our work from cover to cover, we can't count on readers stumbling on our gems by accident. Rather than writing material that is important only to us we should free up that time to figure out ways for readers to find the material that's valuable to them.

So all of these books are off to a book sale where, hopefully, someone who will actually read them will find them. I'll miss them. But we're both better off.

Reading or read

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