Yesterday I spent cleaning out my bookshelves. One huge pile went
to the local library; the other went into the trash dumpster. Being
a deeply committed collector and lover of books, this process of
sorting and discarding was painful and cathartic.
Mind you, I do not purchase and own lousy books. I hope that the
library assistant who unboxes and sorts the donated titles is surprised,
delighted, and sorely tempted to steal a few away for her own personal
collection. And this is the heart of the donation motivation - that
it finally seemed selfish to store so many wonderful books on a
shelf, books dying to be discovered and read, infinitely attractive
but endlessly neglected by their distracted owner. I had visions
of hundreds of Velveteen Rabbit stories whispering "Oh why
won't he take me down, hold me, and read me?" and shedding
silent tears amongst the dusty shelves while I slept.
Thus there was joy in liberation, but for the dumpster pile, the
process was much more difficult. This collection was mostly technical
in nature: old electrical engineering textbooks, programming manuals,
circuit design handbooks I had displayed for a decade or more. Certainly
they were filled with important knowledge, but the sort of shifting
knowledge which is often dated before publication is possible.
Inspiring this purge was a recent visit a local university library
during which I had wandered through the engineering section with
a view to discovering how useful many random selections of the titles
might appear. Alas - I couldn't find a single book I would deem
informative and useful. How many thousands of books on programming
the Z80 microprocessor, or understanding MS-DOS and Pascal, can
be useful? One book on each subject is probably overkill, unless
one wished only to study the brief histories of dead computer languages.
Here was an entire floor, with endless aisles hundreds of feet long,
filled with obsolete, useless knowledge.
In the case of most of my own technical books, I began to realize
that these represented past accomplishment alone. I had mastered
arcane subjects sufficiently to pass the muster of my professors,
and had lugged the aging books along - not that they might some
day be enjoyed, referenced, and re-discovered - but rather to display
my grasp of technology to myself and others. These heavy door-stoppers
were a techno-geek's security-blanket, nothing more. Having finally
realized this, I cast them away, except the few which were of a
general nature - such as differential equations and calculus - that
represent timeless mathematical principles.
My apology to those who are not programmers and do not understand
the magnitude of what I now say: I also threw out The C Programming
Language by Kernigan and Ritchie, with a brief pause of sincere
respect and deep gratitude for that helpful classic before it was
bagged and tossed. I did just barely hold on to my most recent C++
references. Now there are wonderful spaces for my Java and Linux
books - and plenty of room to grow.
More importantly, my shelves now represent a more balanced view
of David. My poetry books, my precious John le Carre thrillers,
my gardening, woodworking, Biblical reference, and Shakespeare collection
far outweigh the technology section. On the scales of my bookshelves,
reflecting my true passions, the timeless, mysterious, fantastic,
heavenly, and earthly once again outweigh the transient code of
And now the old wineskins are ready for a burst of new wine.
http://www.ruhamah.com - March 6, 1999
Afterward November 2003 - I just tossed my gigantic Java 1.2 book.
I didn't mention this but I was able to start several fires in my
fireplace with some of these gigantic how-to 6-inches-thick technical
books. But this involved a great deal of tearing energy and I finally
gave up the idea.