Books to burn

My boiler is broken. Just in time for the return of cold weather. Just in time for the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, when no one will come out to fix it.

No hot water and no central heating.

Then a question comes up on Twitter: “Which of your books would you take to a desert island?” (Or something like that.)  It’s a difficult one, lots of choices, hard to narrow down. I don’t give it that much thought.

However, it does lead me onto an opposing – but more relevant – question: “Which of my books would I be willing to burn to stay warm?” This one I give a lot of thought.

There are an awful lot of books out there in the world that I would happily burn to stay warm, or just burn to protest their sheer awfulness. But the question is: Which of my books would I burn to stay warm? – not which books in general?

I sit in a room with a bookshelf on every wall except the one I’m facing, where there is a desk and window instead. All of my books are within reach of my eye. All items with mass that I’ve chosen to allow to remain in my space. Which would I consign to the flames first?

(Needless to say, those books not in this room would be first on the fire, comprising all my husbands programming books – seriously who needs physical books about programming, it’s the most covered topic on the internet.)

I select and then reject candidates for the fire. The house grows ever colder and I still can’t decide.

  • The Stieg Larsson trilogy? They’re not that good really, but the set has matching covers. (Yes – the shallow and aesthetic criteria have as much sway on me as the substantive.)
  • My Artemis Fowl books? They don’t match. But they are hi-fricking-larious. (Yes – I do still laugh at fart jokes. I prefer to think of it not as immaturity, but as a youthful outlook.)
  • The Murakamis? Let’s face it, you’ve read one you’ve read them all. Single/divorced guy who likes jazz and cooking gets into some weird shit – there may or may not be a cat involved. I think I could pare it down to ‘Hard Boiled Wonderland…’ and ‘Wild Sheep Chase’ and not miss any of the others. Maybe. Maybe… No. Can’t do it. The combined lure of the matching covers and my taste for the slightly skewed and surreal prevents me.
  • My TBR shelf? They’re mostly second hand, received in trade through BookMooch or from various public book swap shelves. But I haven’t read them yet! One of them might hold between its covers the most fabulous world, undiscovered by me, that will change my life forever. OK, not the TBR shelf – except for Moby Dick, there’s a reason he keeps ending up back there despite all attempts to conquer. Success! That’s one book for the fire.

At this point the letting agent arrives with some electric heaters to tide us over, but I’m getting carried away with my considerations.

  • My encyclopaedia and/or atlas? They’re both no doubt out of date now, but there’s something solid and reassuring about being able to go to a book for information and not Wikipedia/GoogleMaps.
  • My astronomy textbooks? I’ve forgotten almost all of my degree, but they remind me that I used to be smart and academic before 7 years of rub from an unrelated job sandpapered the knowledge from my brain.
  • What about the massive amount of children’s/YA literature that stares at me from the furthest bookshelf?  The Roald Dahls? Never! The Changes Trilogy? My favourite teacher bought me that. The Lemony Snickets? They’re just so pretty. The Narnia books? Three of them were my mum’s. The Harry Potters? Well the last couple could probably keep me warm all weekend, they’re that massive. Nah, can’t do it.

Should push come to shove, I think it would be a small and lonely fire made up of Moby Dick, a couple of novelty books (e.g. The Little Book of <blah>), 2010’s Writer’s Handbook, and a stack of gas bills.

Fortunately, the electric heater is warming up my little study a treat (and not igniting books or cats – trust me, I’m keeping an eye on them) and this weekend we hope to be able to throw ourselves on the mercy of family members with working radiators.

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