Friday, May 27, 2011


Just over a decade ago, Joseph Epstein wrote an essay called "Books Won't Furnish a Room."  In that essay, he talked about the process of trimming his personal library; Epstein cut a collection of 2000 volumes down to about 400.  At the time of publication, that essay filled me with the kind of cosmic dread usually reserved for the doomed narrators of Lovecraft's stories.  Dear God in heaven -- weed four books out of every five?  How could anyone force himself to do that?  Easier to saw off your own leg, I thought.  Shows how wrong you can be.  I didn't know it at the time, but I'd already started that process myself.

When my wife and I moved from Chicago to Kansas 25 years ago, we shipped more than a hundred cartons of books.  They weren't small cartons, either; we worked for Kroch's & Brentano's bookstore in downtown Chicago for nine years, and when we packed all those books we got publishers' shipping cartons from the stockrooms.  The cartons would hold 25 or more hardcovers, 50 to 100 mass market paperbacks.  Our house once had 8 or 9 bookcases in the main living areas and two or three 6-foot metal utility shelves in the basement, all double-rowed (some triple-rowed) and sagging, and some boxes stashed in closets.

Most of the books on those shelves are gone now.  They've been given to libraries, or sold to individuals and second-hand book dealers.  It wasn't nearly as painful as I'd thought it would be, because quite a few of those departed books are still here.  The nicest thing about ebooks isn't price or search functions.  It's the space savings, the fact that ebooks let you eat your cake and have it too where shelf space is concerned.  Just replacing Stephen King's hardcovers with ebooks freed up something like 6 feet of shelf space.  We've been replacing print with ebooks for a decade, and while we haven't chopped 80% of our print volumes yet we're getting there as more backlist titles finally see ebook publication.  Thanks to ebooks, we've been able to keep our personal library while achieving Epstein's goal of living in a home where not every wall has a bookcase.

Of course, downsizing the physical space doesn't mean that the book collection has actually been downsized.  Anybody with a serious book-buying habit learns quickly to buy 'em when they're there, because later they might not be so easy to find; that's not as true in these days of online booksellers as it was pre-web, but habits are habits and they don't die easily.  And that means, at least in my case and I'm not unique, that I'm still buying them faster than I can read them; changing to ebooks hasn't changed that even a little bit.

In "Paladin of the Lost Hour," Harlan Ellison's protagonist talks about his library and says "Who wants a library full of books you've already read?"  Well, having a library full of books I've already read will never be my problem.  Leaving the question of catching up with the backlog -- these days, the books in the collection represent aspiration far more than they do accomplishment.  Bet I'm not unique there, either; but that's a subject for a little later.


A brief commercial and free ebook offer -- skip it if you like:
I've got a few short stories available at Amazon's Kindle store, Smashwords, and other ebook sites, and I'm hoping to see comments from reviewers, so until June 7 I'm making 100%-off-purchase-price coupons available at Smashwords.  You can find the ebooks at

One story, "Ghost Writer," is already available free at Smashwords; the other two titles are usually 99 cents each, but you can get those free as well until June 7 by using the coupons at the time of purchase.
Smashwords coupon code for "The Point" is NL93T
Smashwords coupon code for "The Other Iron River, and Other Stories" is QP57C.

If you use the coupons, please post a review at Amazon, Smashwords, and Goodreads at your earliest convenience.

Thanks in advance, see you next week, and bests to all,


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