Anyone catch Geoff Nicholson’s piece in the New York Times about his bookshelves, and whether having books on display by Hitler and Ann Coulter makes him a target for FBI profiling or suggests that he’s a right-wing nut? It’s pretty amusing and insightful, though I did wonder if Nicholson’s wide-ranging collection ever ran into the practical limitations of a cramped New York apartment—and if so, did Hitler and Coulter make the cut?
For the first fifteen years of my post-college life, I was always lucky enough to have room for books in my studio and one-bedroom apartments. Granted, as an editor I could keep all of my “work” books in the office and not surrender shelf space at home, but even when my wife and I combined our collections, we had the space to keep everything on our shelves. We had some questionable things up there in terms of profiling (William Burroughs, Nietzsche, Marx) as well as taste (a really bad bio of Courtney Love), but like Nicholson I filed them under “curiosity, irony, guilty pleasure and the desire to understand the enemy (not to mention free review copies)”.
And then we had the baby. Almost overnight, well-organized bookcases gave way to unsightly piles on desks and dressers as the shelf space in Henry’s room was taken over by baby supplies. By the time Henry turned 18 months, we’d been reduced to one full bookcase in our bedroom and the upper halves of two cases in his room. With a heavy heart, we knew the time had come—we had to get rid of some books.
So, what got sent to Goodwill? First and foremost, paperbacks, especially novels, plus classics like Huck Finn we figured Henry would probably acquire at some point on his own. Some decisions were no-brainers (so long, Courtney!), some were heart wrenching (lots of college books). When it came to the controversial ones, they ended up as keepers, though for less-than-ideological reasons. Both the Burroughs and Nietzsche I’d had since high school, and as for Marx—well, is that really considered dangerous anymore?
However, now that I think about it, we also held onto Aleister Crowely and Helter Skelter—more high school reading—which taken together could put the FBI on notice… Well, let’s just hope the Feds read the part of Nicholson’s article about how a criminal’s reading list can’t explain or predict his actions!