May 29, 2013

"The conversations I had participated in for decades have now gone in another direction (indeed, in several other directions)..."

"... and I have neither the time nor, if truth be told, the intellectual energy required to catch up. Farewell to all that," said Stanley Fish, on selling his collection of books in preparation from his move from a house to a smaller apartment.
In the hours and days following the exodus of the books I monitored myself for a post-mortem (please excuse the hyperbole) reaction. Would I feel regret? Nostalgia? Panic? Relief? I felt nothing. What should have been a momentous event barely registered as I moved on to what seemed the more important task of choosing a new carpet. I was reminded of what a colleague who had left a university after 23 years replied when I asked him if it was difficult to do. He said, “It was like checking out of a motel.”

30 comments:

wyo sis said...

I hope he has some people to turn to. Books and carpets are poor substitutes.

elkh1 said...

It was like checking out of a roach motel.

Mogget said...

Eh, that probably means he's healthy. We have faculty around here whose "use by" date passed about a decade ago. Still fighting the good fight, though just against enemies that no longer exist.

pm317 said...

I was reminded of what a colleague who had left a university after 23 years replied when I asked him if it was difficult to do. He said, “It was like checking out of a motel.”

That is exactly how I felt after leaving academia having been in it for only 12 years. I have developed an aversion to those people and their ilk that it sometimes worries me. But I will find my balance soon enough.

gerry said...

Dear Lord. I am no academic, but I loved books and have shelves lining my basement filled with them. Now the Kindle is my bookshelf.

Fish had valuable books, and so could sell them. Mine are novels, biographies, humor...what do you do? Secretly burn them? Do libraries take old books they have already given away, probably? I doubt it.

I'll cough out the name of my old sled and die. Let the executor worry about them.

Now I feel better.

Henry said...

Books are strange things. For the vast majority of titles there is no reason to own your own copy. Libraries do that for you.

So why do people hold onto books?

Over the last few years my wife and I have gotten rid of probably 90% of our books. I ask myself, will I ever read this again? More importantly, I ask myself, if I come across this book some rainy afternoon or sleepless night, will I rediscover it with delight?

pst314 said...

Perhaps Fish finds it easy to dispose of all those books because be built his career not on a deep love of literature but on the somewhat cynically dishonest word-twisting games of academic theorizing.

Robert Cook said...

The books I read and own are, most of them, physical manifestations of my past and present mental life, signposts of my interests and concerns, a partial representation of who I am.

I don't read "beach books" or the kind of paperbacks one finds at airport kiosks, to be read merely to pass the travel time and then discarded. I don't claim to read only (or even much) of what might be claimed as "high literature," but the books I read I select because I expect they will be meaningful to me in a way more lasting than the time it takes me to read them. Some I will never read again, some I will...and have. Nevertheless, they are all part of me. It comforts me simply to pick them up and hold them, examine them, page through them, to know they are always available to me.

I have, over time, discarded a relative few of the books I have owned, but I have never done it lightly: I've always had to force myself to do it.

MisterBuddwing said...

Books are strange things. For the vast majority of titles there is no reason to own your own copy. Libraries do that for you.

There was a time - back around 1980 - when I would have predicted that the home video market would be exclusively rental. Exceptions aside, I didn't see enough people wanting to actually own enough copies of movies to make it worthwhile.

So, what did I know.

rhhardin said...

The books are all on google for him. You can find anything.

Mitchell the Bat said...

When I was a kid, we had almost no books in the house and my family was really fucked up.

I assumed that people with a lot of books were high class and lived perfect lives.

Oso Negro said...

He didn't leave the study of literature better than it was when he showed up. Maybe if he had run a motel he could have shambled through life theorizing endlessly about all of his guests.

Robert Cook said...

As for Prof. Fish's meditations on retiring, while I am lucky enough to have a job I can tolerate, even enjoy, and work with people I like, I have no personal investment in what I do to earn a living, and am purely mercenary about it: I work to make an income, because I need it. When I can retire--if I can--I will be very glad to do so. If I could retire now I wouldn't hesitate. I would very much prefer to be one of those people one finds when one has a day off during the work week who is free to stroll the city streets at 10:00 a.m., running errands or simply meandering about.

Crimso said...

Fish will find out the hard way what I discovered a long time ago: it's quite some time after you let a book get away that you find you need it.

With the caveat that if you have Robert Cook's above-stated attitudes towards books, you are more likely to see this effect in action. I absolutely hate to part with any book of mine, with the exception of those of which I have more than one copy. And even then...

edutcher said...

Lost a number of books when I moved out to OH to be with The Blonde.

Deciding which ones made the cut was a hard choice, in some cases.

Henry said...

Books are strange things. For the vast majority of titles there is no reason to own your own copy. Libraries do that for you.

Unless you want to pick up your copy at some strange hour and refresh your memory about something.

Henry said...

Unless you want to pick up your copy at some strange hour and refresh your memory about something.

Thus the middle of the night test.

I also find myself using Amazon's search-inside-this-book feature at times.

Robert Cook said...

"I absolutely hate to part with any book of mine, with the exception of those of which I have more than one copy. And even then..."

Oh, yes...there are some books I have bought more than one copy of, (a habit of my dad's, although I think he simply forgot and would buy books not realizing he already had them).

Writ Small said...

I imagine a Douglas Adams novel replying back.

mariner said...

Writ Small,
I imagine a Douglas Adams novel replying back.


If it did, would it be running for the nearest door yelling behind it, "Don't panic!"?

Mitch H. said...

I have this recurrent nightmare where every place I've ever rented was still there, half-full of my old and abandoned crap, empty, filthy and disheveled - and every single landlord insisted that I owed years of back-rent and cleaning costs for the mess.

Strelnikov said...

I can dig it. Approaching retirement, I recently sold my collections of LPs and comics, both containing thousands of titles. ( I do still have my books.) I even sold the orange crates the LPs were in, some of which had been in them for 45 years. Afterwards, nothing. Just a clutter of crap that would have been thrown out past mortem. I enjoyed it.

Strelnikov said...

"I assumed that people with a lot of books were high class and lived perfect lives."

We are, and we do.

Michael Haz said...

What to do with books? I'm experiencing that problem now. This summer it the time when Mrs. H. and and I are going through our home and possessions in preparation for a move to a smaller home.

All the books? Our local used book re-seller will not take any more of 'em. Our library doesn't want them, either. What to do?

A few books, The Bible for example, will be kept, as will a paper Atlas. But the rest of them? Hello recycler's bin.

Anything I want to read is now being purchased for use on a Nook, or on an iPad. The exceptions are throw-away paperbacks for beach reading, bathtub reading and such.

Beyond disposessing our books, shrinking our footprint and other spssessions is proving to be immensely satisfying.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Robert Cook said...

...I have no personal investment in what I do to earn a living, and am purely mercenary about it...

I've told my boss that I'm a software prostitute. I'll write whatever code they pay me to write.

Having said that, there are parts of the work that I do truly enjoy, and if I could retire today, I would still dabble in software in my free time.

Richard Dolan said...

"What to do with books?"

This is not a problem in Brooklyn -- just leave them on the stoop, and they will be gone in a day. A neighbor selling his house after living in it for 40 years has been doing that most of this Spring -- I've picked up some nice titles. They will probably make a return trip to the stoop when my day comes. Some folks hereabout have stoop sales, and try to unload lots of accumulated junk, old clothes, etc., as well as books. It usually works out OK, but you have to sit there with the junk all day.

Paddy O said...

"For the vast majority of titles there is no reason to own your own copy. Libraries do that for you."

Depends on the book. My fiction books, of which I have many, could be replaced by library books without too much concern.

My research books, of which I have many, could not. And library books are of only limited use to me for new titles. I underline, I make notes, I write up in all my books using a four color bic pen and a 6 inch ruler. When I read a book, I mine it, and the way I do so allows me to go back to that book at any time and, very quickly, see the main points, good quotes, overall structure. I've written articles utilizing books I've not actually read for 5 or 6 years, because I could go back to that book and immediately be in tune with it again.

That was Fish's issue too, and so it's not just getting rid of books, he talks about the marginalia, his questions and comments. He's letting go whole research projects, whole conversations, because once given away, those books can't be replaced by mere new copies.

Freeman Hunt said...

If I'm looking for a particular book, the library hardly ever has it.

Freeman Hunt said...

I used to enjoy having a large home library, but lately it's getting on my nerves. It's probably getting on my nerves because there's work being done on my house, and I've had to move hundreds of pounds of books to facilitate it.

I like having a large physical library for children. That way they can browse.

wyo sis said...

Don't count on libraries to keep books you don't read.
Libraries are struggling with the e-book revolution as well.
My guess is that e-books will either make libraries that circulate physical books obsolete, or libraries will become warehouses for books that are still useful for historical purposes, but will never be made into e-books.
Old non-fiction books especially textbooks are virtually worthless unless they have historical value.

Keep books that have personal value, books that your children or grandchildren will use and reference books unless they are seriously outdated. Some books that you might never read again still have significance.For me there is something very wrong about a house that has no books in it. But I'll be able to leave my professional collection behind with no regrets.

Eric said...

Having said that, there are parts of the work that I do truly enjoy, and if I could retire today, I would still dabble in software in my free time.

I used to feel that way, but after a few decades it's lost the last of its luster. I'll never write another line of code unless someone is paying.