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Pruning The Bookshelf

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

One of the benefits of moving – if you are are minimalist – is pruning the ever-growing field of wildflowers and weeds that is one’s library. I’ve had a show-offy liberal arts women’s college collection of books for awhile, and now that I’ve had to move it (in my 40s, to my first house) I realize it’s freakin’ heavy.

Never have books felt like so much baggage. Simone de Beauvoir, really? Who exactly was I keeping her for? And Rand? Was I keeping these books so that someone might come into my living room and see them on a shelf and think better of me? How silly. I tossed the Collected Works of anyone I didn’t truly love however, it gave me anxiety. I had a lot more than books wrapped up in my bookshelves; I had a sense of self I had created through my careful curation of titles.

If I rid myself of the doorstopper of The Riverside Shakespeare, and Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette in favor of A Wrinkle In Time and Like Water for Chocolate, did that mean that I was superficial? A lightweight? And what if I was? What if I chucked all the poetry I had to read for Modern American Women’s Poetry, in the way-back machine of in 1993, because that’s just not me anymore, and maybe it never was? I dithered. I wrung my hands. Larousse trembled over the precipice of the Goodwill bag.

Ultimately, it was freeing. I am not the person I was ten years ago, trying to meet the expectations of what I thought those book-shelf-inspecting others expected. I was insecure; I clung to the books other people said were Good Books. But since then I have grown sparer and more confident, and now, so are my bookshelves.


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