Monday, March 23, 2009

What Books to Keep

A friend recommends a book, a sale title looks interesting in the bookstore, an extra purchase at a yard sale, the shelves begin to sag a little under the weight of my reading habits. It is time to sort out my bookshelves and decide what is worthy to remain and what must be passed on to the local Friends of the Library bookstore. No two tales are the same, though some are similar (after all, if literary critics can be believed, there are really only seven plot lines on which all literature has been based). Many of these novels are friends, how do I decide which to keep and which to pass on to new homes?

A long time ago I watched an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation, the premise of which was that a superior alien race (somehow responsible for a lost or wrecked space shuttle) had created a virtual reality for the lone survivor. This poor astronaut lived out the remainder of his life in a simulation based on a book the alien race discovered on board the shuttle. The trashy novel described a sleazy casino full of stereotypical characters and the journal of the deceased astronaut described his days there as being condemned to a living hell. ...If only he had brought with him a better book.

If an alien race discovered my bookshelves, would I wish to live out my days in the world they imagined and created from any one of my books? I don't think I can honestly say I would wish to live in Watership Down, or board with any of The Brothers Karamazov ... Thank goodness I am not given to reading crime thrillers and horror novels!

So this will be my test. If I would wish to live with such characters, in such a setting, through tragedies and triumphs -- then the book will stay. I'm rather curious to see how well I can stick to this rule.

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