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 science.

And now the old wineskins are ready for a burst of new wine.

David Pickens - 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.
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