I have long been a fan of Luc Sante (see PATAPOUFS! ANTHROPOPHAGES! from 2004), and I should long since have alerted you to his blog Pinakothek (“A blog about pictures. All kinds of pictures.”):

I won’t pretend to specialize or present myself as an expert in anything. Subjectivity is my middle name, a trick memory is my pack mule, and self-contradiction is my trusty old jackknife. Generally I favor humble over great, marginal over central, old over new—but not always, because like a four-sided porch I’m open to all winds.

I want to call to your attention his post Unpacking My Library, with its poignant evocation of the lot of us hopeless book accumulators:

But after living in smallish apartments for decades I just spent seven years in a house with a full-size attic, and everything went to hell. Books entered my house under cover of night, from the four winds, smuggled in by woodland creatures, and then they never left. Now that I have moved again—into a house that’s not necessarily smaller but that I am determined to keep from being choked with books like kudzu—I have just weeded out no fewer than twenty-five (25) boxes worth: books I won’t read and don’t need, duplicates, pointless souvenirs. I discovered that I owned no fewer than five copies of André Breton’s Nadja, not even all in different editions. I owned two copies of St. Clair McKelway’s True Tales from the Annals of Crime & Rascality, identical down to the mylar around the dust jacket. I had books in three languages I don’t actually read. Etcetera. It was time to end the madness….
I do have a few hundred books that I reread or refer to fairly regularly, and I have a lot of books pertaining to whatever current or future projects I have on the fire. I have a lot of books that I need for reference, especially now that I live forty minutes away from the nearest really solid library. Primarily, though, books function as a kind of external hard drive for my mind—my brain isn’t big enough to do all the things it wants or needs to do without help…

I’ve moved too often and discarded too many books; I hope I never have to triage my burdensome but beloved library again. (Thanks for the link, Kári!)


  1. Ouch! I just whittled down my library quite a bit–we’ve moved into an apartment that’s much, much smaller than my old house. Hopefully the movers will arrive Monday with the rest of my books.
    Oh, yeah, and the furniture.

  2. “I had books in three languages I don’t actually read” – my people!
    I just pile them up. What can I say? I need to go through – I know I have duplicates if nothing else – but … It does hurt, doesn’t it?

  3. It was the ‘books in three languages I don’t actually read’ that got to me, too. (Only three?) And those are actually the hardest to give up. It’s not just that it would mean admitting that one never was going to learn the languages; they are often the hardest to pick up in the first place. (One goes to Turkey, as it might be, or Poland, sees thousands of books never seen on home soil which may never come one’s way again…how much more sensible to buy them and take them home, so that one will have them to hand in case of need…)

  4. Hmmm. Books I own in languages I don’t speak:
    And I’d be kidding myself to say I actually understand Dutch – I just guess, from my small knowledge of German. But they’re all on my prime research subject, beer and brewing, so that’s why I keep them.

  5. That’s a really interesting story! I’ve started my own blog about language learning at http://properlanguagelearning.blogspot.com/ and wondering whether I can tell people sometimes about what you’re writing here? Thanks.

  6. I don’t think I have any books in languages I haven’t at least made some attempt to learn. I do have a copy of one of the Harry Potter books in what I believe is Irish. The sad thing is that I haven’t had a chance to figure it out yet. (Hopefully I didn’t let my wife give it away.)

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