Tough choices for a book lover

Published 8:20 am Monday, October 2, 2017

By Joe Rogers

I set myself a challenging task the other day: ridding the house of my unnecessary books.

This followed a companion effort to rid it of my unnecessary clothing, an activity that seemed to carry an implied question: Just how many pairs of pants does a guy who doesn’t work need?

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Twenty-six, the answer seems to be.

Both pursuits were in furtherance of the goal of shrinking the Rogers household footprint. The operative standard was, “Is this something you’re willing to pay to move back South?”

I vowed to be brutal in making the assessments. Turned out not to be so simple, at least when it came to books. It’s like saying goodbye to friends – or potential friends, since some of them I hadn’t actually “met.”

There’s probably some genetics involved there. Mama, a dedicated bibliophile, stayed in full acquisition mode pretty much until the end, a fact that helped make clearing out her apartment an exercise in excavation. We didn’t even try to count them all, but here’s a clue:

We filled nine boxes just with cookbooks.

My situation isn’t that extreme. But the issue quickly became, “What constitutes an unnecessary book?”

I found it impossible to toss anything inscribed as a gift from Mama and Daddy, which explains why Kayne and I still have two copies of Larry Brown’s “Facing the Music.” Mine has parental signatures; hers tops that – Larry Brown’s.

Brown, as it happens, was one of those authors represented multiple times, including, of course, “Joe.” Others include Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel García Márquez, Roy Blount Jr., Bill Bryson and Martin Amis, all of whose works were safe.

Two more were the English detective authors Colin Dexter and P.D. James, whose entire outputs I have made an effort to collect.

Sherlock Holmes? I probably have each story and novel represented a minimum of three times. Is that really necessary?

So far, yes.

There’s also quite a collection of histories of England, Ireland and Scotland that are staying put, owing to an affinity for heritage. Similarly, books on cats, Zen, Taoism, beer and the Beatles abound.

I was able to cull seven volumes on assorted English kings, figuring that my interest in, say, Edward II was unlikely to grow substantially. Nor is my interest in Jane Austen. So, ditto.

Oddly enough, I seem to have only a few books related to Mississippi, one of them a collection of columns from my hometown paper about my home county, Jackson. Are they good? Not particularly. But still. Home.

Also passing muster were about 20 books on the stories behind common phrases, like “eating crow” and “the whole nine yards.” I once had in mind making myself an expert on such and syndicating a column about it.

So far, that idea hasn’t found a market. But if you and I ever meet, I can bore you for a couple of hours on the topic.

Of the 50 or so books I finally decided to donate to a local library, the only one that I had no problem pitching was one I bought a few years ago for a column. The writing was so abysmal that I made it through only 88 of the 514 pages.

A lot of other folks seemed to like it more, but I suspect not many of them men. Maybe you’ve heard of it: “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Good riddance.

Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at or on Twitter @jrogink.

About Joe Rogers

I'm a retired newspaper journalist and a Mississippi native who found himself living and working in New York.

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