Downsizing some things is easy. With others, it’s painful.
This year I’ve made many promises to myself, and one of them is this: I’m going to live on the beach, at least for some portion of my life, and likely soon. I’ll spend my mornings watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, my afternoons writing and editing, and as the sun sets, my evening drink in hand and the sound of the waves on the beach lulling me to sleep.
I dream of hopping on my motorcycle with nothing more than my laptop, a bag full of clothes, and a few things that I cannot part with to begin a new life chapter — maybe just a short side story, maybe more.
But that poses an important question. What can I not part with?
If you want to find out what’s truly important, downsize.
With most things it’s easy, but as I looked today at my book collection — already cut in half several different times from previous moves and whittled down to books I loved — I realized I had to make some tough choices.
And I was vicious.
The fantasy classics from my youth, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit? Gone, finally facing the same fate as the two-dozen high pile of Star Wars fiction that had gotten the boot years before.
That whole row of Stephen King paperbacks that defined my high school years but I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of even when I donated all my Dean Koontz books to the library? Gone.
Those nonfiction books that had opened my eyes to the world like Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and Richard Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? and Richard Grant’s God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre? Gone.
The same fate befell Bob Dylan’s Autobiography and The Hunger Games trilogy and a dozen other books that I took chances on and ended up loving like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Mostly I held this rule: if I’m not planning on rereading it soon, it goes.
So what’s left?
It’s an interesting way to look at someone’s life — not the books they do have, but the books they can’t let go.
Like the two books I read that will forever stay with me as an example of what it means to put brilliance on paper: Of Mice and Men, which showed me the power and tragedy and poetry that language can evoke, and The Great Gatsby, which I didn’t much care for in high school but have since fell in love with.
To part with them would be impossible.
In fantasy land I couldn’t part with Game of Thrones. Will I ever reread them? At their length its hard to justify, but to cast away the first five books without their upcoming companions seems wrong. So they stay.
Same with Pat Rothfuss, whose books I’ll never part with. Partly because they’re spectacular, partly because he went to the same school as me and wrote for the same newspaper, partly because he’s the only famous author I’ve ever interviewed. His books are more than books in that sense. They’re a moment in my life.
Neil Gaiman stays too. Mostly because everyone speaks highly of American gods and I don’t much remember it, so it must be reread. Plus, he has written one of my favorite short stories of all time.
Then there’s the dozen or so books I’ve purchased but never gotten around to: Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Christopher Hitchens in nonfiction, Fitzgerald and Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard in fiction.
There’s a half dozen more I’ve bought and never read, and of course there’s The Lovely Bones, a book I read twice when it came out and continue to love. I’ve just realized the author, Alice Sebold, was born 30 minutes away from my house. She has other books. They must be read.
There are so many to read. So I must read them, absorb them, and clear space for more.
But some will never go.