To a bibliophile, books are indeed as precious as gems Image Credit: Daniel/Unsplash

I was woken up last night by a sudden crash. An intruder? With palpitating heart, I switched on my bedside lamp. The floor was strewn with books. I realised it was the towering pile beside me that I had accidentally knocked down. In a way it was a wake-up call. The time had come to cull my bookshelves, and, in keeping with Mary Kondo’s dictum, only keep those that ‘sparked joy.’

But where do I start? Unlike electronic gadgets, mobile phones or fashionable clothes, books ironically do not have a ‘shelf life’. In fact, the older the book, the more precious it often becomes. I was presented with a Shakespearean dilemma: which ones to stay, which to go?

‘Self-help’ books

First (and easiest) to get rid of were the ‘self-help’ books. None of them had really helped me, as I usually slipped back to my old habits or old ways of thinking. How to be a better manager, how to think outside the box — how naive I’d been when I’d bought them.

Along with these went in cookbooks, diet and exercise books, and books on various subjects like philosophy, meditation, and art and craft. They were a summary of my interests over the years. It was like giving up bits of my past.

Hardest to part with was a staggering collection of fiction. I consoled myself with the thought that I was spreading the love of reading by donating these books. Let me tell you, parting with these is like parting with your youngest child, sending them off to their first day at kindergarten or to their university in some cold and distant land. But go they must. I kept back only the very dearest, while the rest were packed and sealed before I could change my mind.

Equally difficult to part with were the children’s books. Like photographs, these books, stained with chocolatey fingers or discoloured with some syrupy liquid, were heart-rending to give away. They were a reminder of a time when life was simpler. Should I keep back some for my grandchildren when they became old enough to read? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make them go over something their mother or father had enjoyed as a child?

Thoughts and theories

Dear reader, let me tell you, all these thoughts and theories take away from the main task: the bookshelves needed a culling. Quashing these wanton ideas, I picked up huge piles of them and tossed them into the children’s books carton. Let them bring joy to some other children. And as for my grandkids, surely their tastes would change by the time they grew big enough to read chapter books.

A few hours later, I was done, with cartons neatly labelled and ready for transport.

What I kept back is as revealing as what I gave away, a strange and eclectic collection that defies both reason and logic. One of them was ‘New School Arithmetic’ by Halls, Stevens and Sims. This was my Math book in Class 6, and had my name scrawled over it.

Then there was a tattered volume of Shakespeare’s King Lear, with my notes inscribed on every bit of blank space, a well-thumbed read-aloud book my son had enjoyed every night, plus a set of outdated encyclopedias of the last century that had been presented to me by a long-departed uncle. And of course, books autographed by the authors themselves or those given by writer-friends as well as some that had made an indelible impression on me.

Perhaps, dear reader, you judge me harshly for being so cold-hearted in parting with these precious jewels. To a bibliophile, their books are indeed as precious as gems. But as I surveyed my almost empty bookshelves with a light heart, I knew I’d done the right thing.

Sooner or later, we all have to learn to let go.

Padmini Sankar is a Dubai-based writer and author