Friday, February 3, 2017

Guilt and the Keeper Shelf

I have yet to meet an avid reader who doesn’t have a keeper shelf.

What’s a keeper shelf?

To bibliophiles – lovers of books – a keeper shelf is a shelf (or in my case ‘shelves’) bearing the most favored, treasured, and adored books. They are books that may or may not ever be re-read, but are books that simply canNOT be parted with.

Every reader has his or her reasons for what books get shelved on this most sacred of shelves. It could be one that made the reader laugh, cry, or sigh in happy satisfaction. Or maybe the words between the covers transformed the reader, helping him or her through a difficult time by giving clarity and answers when it felt like none would ever be found. Maybe the book is a reference book – an often-read, much jotted-in, dog-eared book of information. Or better yet maybe it’s a rare or signed edition in which the reader spent hours in the rain waiting at a book signing.

The keeper shelf is often the most sacred and cherished place in the house. Messy linen shelves? Who cares. Messy keeper shelf? Call in sick from work to straighten it out, PRONTO!

Whatever the reason – and there ARE no right or wrong reasons – the books on a reader’s keeper shelf are personal and ever-changing. Sometimes, and sadly at that, the collection needs to be thinned out – books are always being added, but there is (unfortunately) only so much space a person can have. It’s a hard task, purging books, a task often put-off for weeks, months and years.

As for my keeper shelf?

I have three – well, four.

My main bookcase is a compilation of keepers, reference books and my ever-growing TBR pile (To Be Read pile – another commonly known collection of books among readers). It’s a huge bookshelf, two and a half rows deep, and it’s one of my most prized possessions. I remember all the books stored there (well, most of the time – my memory is finicky), but when I do a little rearranging/digging around the shelves it’s often like Christmas morning when I find forgotten treasures! I try to keep my ‘keepers’ on their own shelf – space is always an issue - but I know I must be diligent and grant them the honour of allowing them their own rightful spot on the designated keeper shelf.

Then in my bedroom I have two keeper shelves (two small bookcases) designated ONLY to books I simply CANNOT part with, as well as a shelf in the closet. Sure I have clothes like any ‘normal’ person in there, but my keeper books on the shelves above my non-fashionable clothes? Worth more to me than any design on a fashion runway.

And every so often things get out of control and I have to get brave and summon the courage to do the dreaded GREAT PURGE. I have to pare down, thin out, and minimize what’s on my shelves – not out of anger or revenge, but out of necessity. I hate doing it – guilt gnaws at me like a dog on a bone – but sometimes ya just gotta take a deep breath and do it. Reading tastes change – there’s no doubt about it – and as a writer my reading tastes change a lot. What I read affects my writing, and vice versa. That’s not to say I’m as flighty, fickle and easily swayed to trends, but despite my resistance and denial of my own aging (read: I’m getting older but I don’t have to like it), what I read is always evolving

As I write this I’m gearing up to do a Great Purge. I’ve been building-up for it for two weeks – the excuse of ‘no time’ is perfect for avoiding the inevitable. I know I must do it – I want to, I need to, I must. There are some books I have noted SAVE FOREVER in the front cover – those will stay. But there are some that must go – they were a trend for me at the time (maybe I AM fickle), but not everything can be saved for all time.

In prepping for the Great Purge I did a quick review of my treasured books and they were like a time capsule – a timeline of my life. Where some books were relevant at different times of my life, now they are not. They served their purpose. That’s not to say I ‘used them’ and now I’m tossing them aside without thought – they ended up on my keeper shelf for a reason, didn’t they? And I honoured the author who wrote them – I bought the book and I finished reading it. Even books that don’t end-up on the keeper shelf are not to be forgotten – all books matter and have something to offer, even if only one spirit-changing, uplifting, mood-shifting sentence. Keeper shelf or not, I hate having to purge my books – but at least I’m passing them on to another reader to love (used book stores, libraries, and lunchrooms are the recipients). But still the guilt eats away at me.

My keeper shelves have books like classics – Jane Eyre is my favorite – a few favorites I read in my teens that I found in used book stores, a series or two I love, favorite authors who inspire my writing, a few historical biographies that make me think, a Danielle Steel translated to French, signed copies of books by authors I have met or know personally, and books that just simply made me sit back and sigh at THE END. I have books I love just for the sake of loving them, and books that were relevant in my life BACK THEN. It’s hard, but holding on to something for the sake of holding on to them – especially out of guilt – can weigh a person down.

So as I continue to mentally prepare for this great task of the Great Purge, I will work through my guilt. I know that I am doing it for the greater good – making room for more books, honouring past and present author’s and their work by reading the books, loving them, then passing them on. that I’m making room for more book, I’m honouring past and present authors and their work by reading them then passing them on, and will always be adding to my Keeper Shelf – and know I will have to go through all the guilt again.

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