Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

December 3, 2003. More on screening books.

I started tackling the work-related books the other evening. I had been putting it off, because it seemed so hard to decide what I needed to keep and what could go. And indeed, I still have not been able to grapple with all the documents, especially boxes and boxes of environmental accounting papers documenting the work of dozens of countries. But suddenly the books were quite simple. I didnít need them. I have so many books that could be useful, or should be useful, but in fact I have never opened them. I found my rationale for handling them Ė Iíve managed to work for years without reading these books, so I am not going to carry them after me in case they turn out to be useful in the future. They wonít be useful sitting in the basement, and Iím not making space for them in the van, so off they go. Sometimes I think I should at least catalog them, but finding a catalog of book titles will be easy enough in the future Ė the challenge is to realize that a given one might be useful. And I canít do that with a list of my own books any more than I can do it with the full shelf list of the Library of Congress. So now I have three shelves Ė six feet Ė of books to give away in the spare room Ė natural history and economics, mostly.

The ones I have kept are the ones that mattered in my life, not in my work. So I had to keep The Life and Death of the Salt Marsh, that little paperback that I picked up at the Chincoteague visitor center in 1977 and read on the beach. Because that book is why I now work on the environment. Not that it was so profound, or that I remember much of what it said, but it led me to take biology from E.O. Wilson, and to think about environmental economics, and to be where I am now. I had to keep The Outermost House for something like the same reason. If anyone every looks at my library some time in the future, they will wonder at what I own, but that will be because they donít know the ties from me to those particular books. I am not trying to own a good collection on these subjects any more. I am keeping books that are tied to my life, and that doesnít show.

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