Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Weeding the Biographies
I spent yesterday weeding the biography section in the library. It hadn't been done in years and the shelves were getting so full that it was hard to put away books -- full, I should add, of volumes that in many cases no one reads.
Our biographies seem to fall into two categories. There are the gigantic, 800 page tomes that relate every possible detail of their subjects' lives and families. And then there are the slim 40-page books for young readers about famous scientists or musicians or whatever.
Many of those 800-pagers were old and yellowed, and frankly unappealing. What high school student, for example, wants to launch into a gigantic 30-year-old biography of Baudelaire? And some biography subjects are just a little too obscure -- like Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law of the famous Anne. I don't want to seem anti-intellectual, but who cares?
Then there's the stuff that's out of date and needs to be replaced. We had books on Marie Antoinette and Mary Shelley, but they were both at least 40 years old and sadly decrepit.
Some people's legacies have been re-evaluated over time. Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, is still considered a great architect, but his personal life has been the subject of recent scrutiny. We need a new biography that addresses his reputation for womanizing.
The slim volumes, on the other hand, are also ignored, because nowadays, good cursory biographies of most famous scientists, explorers and musicians are available online. Kids just don't check out those skinny books anymore.
So basically, I pulled a heck of a lot of stuff. Maybe a quarter of our biographies overall.
I saved the newer ones that are still getting read, and the classics -- like Robert K. Massie's "Nicholas and Alexandra," or Antonia Fraser's "Mary, Queen of Scots," or Billie Holiday's "Lady Sings the Blues." I still have to go through everything with my boss to make sure she's comfortable with the weed, but I think she will be.
I got so absorbed in the task that I worked all the way through lunch and into the afternoon. When I finally came up for air, it was 3 p.m.! I thought the clock was wrong, but no. I haven't lost track of time that significantly in ages.
(Photos: A shuttered pub in Richmond, southwest London -- reportedly one of the oldest in the area. Hopefully someone will reopen it!)