Over the course of the year, many books come to me. To review; to probably mention somewhere on social media; as gifts, and once in a while an autographed book sent by a writer. Soon the books start occupying every flat surface in my study. On the table, on a bench, on the window sill, books piled on books, and finally when I run out of space, they start piling on the floor. In the last few days of the year, I do a quick reconnaissance of all the books that I am yet to put away into my book shelves. For it is a difficult decision. What does one keep? And what does one give away?
Autographed books by writer-friends have a shelf allocated to hold just that. But the rest pose a horrendous problem. So I start sorting them into piles. The first lot are the books gifted to me. I segregate them further into three piles starting with a tiny set of books I know I will read one day later if not sooner. The next lot are the glossy photograph ones that are splendid to leave on coffee tables. The third pile is what I need to get rid of. The ones that come with nothing written in is easy. I can gift them to someone else. But here one has to exercise caution: for just as it happens with candles, table linen and costume jewellery, gifting books too are ruled by the cyclic pattern of Karma. You send a book out into the world because you don’t particularly want to keep it. It goes from one home to another and then it comes back to you eventually. A Machiavellian move that helps is to leave them in my guest bedroom and encourage guests to ‘take your pick!’ And then I write an elaborate note in its pages so they are stuck with it.
The next lot are the ones you know you will read only when you have nothing else to read. Heavy tomes filled with appendices and footnotes and replete with graphs and case studies on obscure subjects such as gender in furniture, the sex lives of the fruit fly, strange customs of courtship and marriage among the thee-tho-tha tribe. So I pack them away to take on a long sojourn away from home. I feel obligated to read them to exercise my brain cells but they cause my elbows to hurt and my mind to wander off and given a chance I would grab a Marian Keyes. Hence I need to make sure that there is nothing light within grabbable reach.
The final pile is what goes into my bookshelves. Books I have yearned for; books I do want to read and keep, and books that are exemplary pieces of storytelling no matter how obscure or uncelebrated the authors are.
Then there are the biographies of artists that I clutch at like a drowning man clutching at straw. In the stories of others who have chosen the artistic life I seek solace to know that it has all been worthwhile—the long solitary hours, the toll of going into parts of the mind no one sane has any business going into, the bad reviews and biased critics, the mood swings and melancholy and supreme but short-lived satisfaction on bringing a piece of art to fruition.
When the books have been put away and surfaces emerge, I know they will fill up soon and in twelve months time, it would once again be back to square one.