I still have the four books that I bought at a used bookstore in Mullica Hill, NJ when I first started to actively collect - read that as hoard - great books. I was an English major at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University where I'm an adjunct writing instructor). The store is a converted barn that had an outdoor section: a wall of shelves from stone driveway ground to roof that had huge blue tarp drapes to protect the books from the weather. These were the "cheap" books. Value only to the reader. Great books, yes. Great condition: Not so much. But D. H. Lawrence's Women In Love was there. And so was his Sons and Lovers. There was Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. And Melville's Omoo was there, too.
From those humble beginnings grew shelves and shelves from apartments to condo to house -- in the living room, dining room, top of the steps, bedroom, kitchen (cookbooks and books on wine), bathroom (old bawdy humor books). There were books under couches, stacked next to the upright piano, under beds.
A few years ago, and for no singular reason, I started to sift through them. I began giving good reading copies of classics to students who showed an interest. I took some that I knew I would never read again to Goodwill and other charitable drop-offs. This wasn't done in a day or a weekend. It happened from time to time, little by little.
Today was another one of those days. I took a few books off the shelf, some that I decided there really wouldn't be a time where I would reach for this book other than to give it away. Perhaps it's a point of generativity that I've reached. Or maybe I'm becoming more discerning with my time. If I'm going to read, it is more likely I'll read something new rather than re-read something that I've probably already re-read.
One of the books I pulled down was a 1944 copy of The World of Washington Irving. I remember reading parts of that book. I had looked through the table of contents and gleaned what I thought was interesting. Today I opened up to the first page and began to read. I sat on the floor of my dining room and read the whole book. It was a rather pedantic read, far more about everything else going on in the late 1700s/early 1800s. Not a whole lot about Washington Irving himself, though. Nonetheless, an interesting read.
For a minute I thought about keeping the book. I had enjoyed it. But I knew I was done with it. I knew I wouldn't revisit again, and, if I did, it wouldn't be for another 20 years. And knowing how much dust collects in twenty years, I put the book in a bag along with about twenty other novels, biographies, and short story collections.