A Pile of Books (Among Other Things)

My wife has been on my case for a while now to go through my book cases, desk and the piles of things around the room that I’ve accumulated over more than 40 years of lawyering. I am not a hoarder by any means, but I do have a tendency to see the future potential of something that I don’t need at the moment, but may well need someday. So I find a place for it.

After 40 years, that ends up being a great many things that I might have needed someday, but for many saved items, that day never came. Yesterday, at Dr. SJ’s extreme urging, I pulled books from their shelves and put them in a pile. It was not a small pile.*

One of the side benefits of having a blawg is that people want you to review their books. Some are friends. Some are random people. Some books are relevant. Some are not even remotely of interest. Some are brilliant. Most are . . . not. The odd thing about books is that once you’ve read them, or gotten as far into them as tolerance allows before you can’t take anymore, there is really nothing more to be done with them. You put them on a shelf and they sit there until the day you’re ready to pass them on.

I’m ready to pass them on.*

The view looking backward is very different than the view looking forward. For years, I accumulated things for a variety of reasons. Books were good, so I kept books. I kept comic strips I cut out of the funny pages because they struck a note that mattered to me. I kept the occasional tchotchke because it was cute, cool or interesting, even though it was devoid of utility. I’m thinking the chattering teeth or the stuffed Armadillo (we named him Oscar). There was the ugly but useful paper clip holder from some court reporting service that went out of business in the ’90s, but had a magnet around the top that kept my clips from falling all over my desk. And then there were the gifts from my kids. Every single one of them.

In the early days, you don’t have enough books to fill up your shelves, and the shelves look pretty silly just sitting their empty. And so you accumulate books and tchotchkes to fill your shelves. Maybe some are just filler, to be replaced as soon as you get something you like better, but some become old friends and one doesn’t toss out old friends lightly. Then there’s inertia, a surprisingly powerful force in retaining things you care little about.

In the middle years, your shelves are full, but you keep accumulating even though space is at a premium. So you put things down with the best of intentions to make room for them by moving the old along and replacing them with the new. Some day. But that day is in a future that never quite arrives, and so they sit wherever they happen to be put down. And sit.

In the twilight years, you look at your shelves through misty eyes. You remember why each book, each tchotchke, is there and smile at the memories. But you also realize that decades have gone by and you’ve never touched them again since the day you put them on the shelf. Things that were once cool are now dusty. Books that were once interesting are still interesting, but hardly interesting enough to read again. And the books that weren’t interesting, but filled empty space, still aren’t interesting.

And some are just funny as silly anachronisms of their moment in time.

I will miss them all in their own way. But my wife is right, as usual, that the time has come to let go of the vast array of crap I’ve accumulated during my practice that I will never need and haven’t used. To everything, there is a season.

*About 20 years ago, I divested of my law library. It was painful, as the books were quite expensive at about $50 a pop with a new book every month, and there were no options for a lawyer but to maintain a library of current casebooks. When law went online, the books were suddenly superfluous and the real estate they used up was expensive. The problem was nobody wanted old law books, as tons of lawyers were trying to get rid o them at once. Law school libraries were overflowing and had no more space. After much angst, my solution was to sell them in sets of 10 books on ebay as “Designer Law Books” for props and to fill shelves in fancy homes. They all sold.

**A couple people have indicated interest in taking the books, one of whom lives close enough to come pick them up. I explained that many are just old, out-of-date, law books, but he’s taking them anyway. I wish him well and my condolences to his family.


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