I love books. I learn a lot from books that I've bought.
But yesterday I also learned a lot from deciding which books to give away (to the Friends of Salem Library, who sell them to support the library).
Two large bookshelves and a small bookshelf no longer fit our living room's decor. So my home decorating guru, a.k.a. My Wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, let it be known that it was time to move the bookshelves into my office.
Which meant, I had to remove all of the books. Then decide which ones I wanted to keep. Most of the books fell into a Meaning of Life category: religious, spiritual, mystical, philosophical, scientific.
Since I'd accumulated them over a long time -- some dated from my college years, 1966-71 -- they spanned many changes in how I viewed the nature of the cosmos. So picking each one up, glancing at the title and back cover, thumbing through the pages, looking at notes and highlighting I'd left, trying to remember how I felt after reading the book, all this forced me to consider whether a book I was holding was compatible with my current outlook on life, reality, and the universe.
I'd bought and partially read Marie Kondo's book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing." Having found that her adage, does an item spark joy?, worked well in deciding what t-shirts I should get rid of, this was the main question I had in my mind as I pondered the keepability of my living room books.
A majority weren't keepers. These books await boxing up and transporting to the Friends of Salem Library folks.
I found that I no longer felt any spark of joy for many books that once enthralled me. I used to devour every English translation of Meister Eckhart and Rumi that I could find, along with some Christian mystics like St. John of the Cross. Now, though, the mystical books seemed empty of meaning, fantasies about spiritual realms that existed only in the worshipful mind of the beholder.
Many books that tried to bridge the divide between spirituality and science also didn't make it into the Keep pile. These weren't so easy to discard, but I realized that I just was no longer into attempts to interpret scientific discoveries as reflecting a supernatural reality.
(Even though I'd written such a book myself.)
Less than half of the books I'd once cherished made it onto the bookshelves that now resided in my office/meditation area. Before, all ten shelves had been filled with books. Now, less than five contained the Meaning of Life books that once graced our living room.
It felt good to do the decluttering thing. To make what was on the bookshelves match much more closely with the leanings of my mind -- that struck me as a wonderfully harmonious thing to do. After it was done.
The process of deciding which books to keep, and which to give away, wasn't all that easy. At one time I'd been friends with most of the books. We related with each other. We had a lot in common. Sometimes it was painful to put a book in the Give Away pile after viewing all the highlighting and notes I'd left in the pages.
But, hey, change happens. Some subjects that once brought delight to my reading eyes aren't of interest to me anymore. Others still are.
I'm keeping my stack of Religious Skeptic books by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and others. A few mystic writings stay on a shelf for old times sake: some Rumi, Ramana, Eckhart.
My Taoism and Buddhism collections were culled to some degree, but not a whole lot. They still fit in pretty comfortably with my current worldview. As do the many physics, cosmology, and neuroscience books I keep on accumulating. I kept the newer ones, and discarded most of the older ones, because science moves on.
It probably won't take long for the empty spaces on the bookshelves to be filled in. For now, though, I enjoy looking at the blankness. This reminds me how much more we humans always have to learn, compared to what we know now.
Which is a big reason why I've come to reject the false knowing of religions. They wrongly believe in supernatural stuff that almost certainly isn't true, while rejecting scientific knowledge that almost certainly is true.