- by Sharon Ashwood
I part with books about as willingly as I volunteer for periodontal surgery. Some people have a TBR pile. I have the makings of a pyramid large enough to shock a pharaoh. If I ever truly weeded the collection, I’d have to call a handyman to replace the lost insulation. Books aren’t just my friends, they’re my nesting material.
Ergo, it was an emotional moment when, in a fit of spring cleaning, I culled my paperback collection. As I sit down to write this, I’ve just returned from rehoming four large bags of books. I’m surprised at how liberated I feel. But then, this was a rite of passage.
To a would-be fiction writer, novels are more than a good read. Books are maps. They are examples to learn from. If we want to educate ourselves on the must-haves of a genre, the preferences of a publishing house, or how a master of the craft spins a tale, we turn to the page. Learning the market means acquiring stacks of other people’s works. In my case, stacks of stacks. I’m a slow learner.
What I surrendered were four bagsful of roads studied but not taken. The models, voices, and story architectures in those volumes weren’t for me. They’ve gone on to show other people the way. I kept the teachers who spoke to my creative heart.
My drive home from the donation site bubbled with epiphanies. I wasn’t giving up books; I was defining my artistic path. For every decision, something must fall by the wayside. Saying “no” and “goodbye” is part of choice, and choice gives a journey direction.
Yeah, okay, that’s a lot of meaning to derive from thinning the paperback herd, but knowing what I’m NOT as a writer is just as important as worshipping my shelf of idols, right?
Gosh, how profound, I thought as I sprang up the front steps, freed of burdens both literal and metaphorical, I could get my own talk show. Well, not as a housekeeping diva. Sadly, my novel infestation still crams the shelves to overflowing like a slow creep of paper lava. I suspect that in my brief absence several litters of short stories grew to four-volume adulthood.
Nevertheless, I think I’m hot on the trail of an interesting idea. As writers, is what we choose not to read as important as what we seek out?