Thursday, September 17, 2009

Junk

Philip K Dick had a word for it: kipple. I think he may also have called it gubble at one point but he definitely called it kipple in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and a couple of other books I would check, but my paperback copies of his books are behind a bunch of other paperbacks because my fiction paperback shelves, for A - M at least, are double-ranked. I have too many books. Well, you can’t have too many books of course. No, the problem is that I don’t have enough space for all the books I have bought (I just bought another today, David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again). I have many metres of bookshelves, but I also have a lot of books. I don’t have enough room for them all. I don’t even have enough room for all of my books. That is, complimentary copies of the books I wrote, and anthologies in which I have a short story, and other people’s books for which I wrote introductions. Mass-market paperbacks of six of my books were published in the UK this month, a trade paperback of one of those titles is about to be published in the US, and another title will be published in hardback and trade paperback in the UK at the beginning of next month. I have been sent multiple copies of all of them. Not to mention two copies of the Nightshade Best SF and Fantasy of the Year, because its editor Jonathan Strahan, was kind enough to include one of my stories. Not to mention the books by other people that I’ve bought this month (seven, so far). Really, I have to admit, I have too many books. I’ve been trying to firefight the problem by getting rid of some of them. You keep books because you like them, individually and collectively, and because you think, one day, you might want to read them again. But this month I’ve been going through my books weeding out ones that I positively, definitely am not going to read again, because I already have too many books I haven’t yet read. So far, I’ve made three trips to the local charity shop, and I’ve just found a few more books I can bear to part with today. It helps, a little. But the books - and CDs and DVDs, don’t get me started on those - keep coming.

Not to mention all the other stuff that we all accumulate, that over time loses usefulness and context and becomes kipple. Not garbage - wrappers and wet lettuce leaves and coffee grounds - but ancient electronic gadgets and kitchenware, broken toys, old shoes, lone socks. And so on, and so forth. Stuff we should throw out or sell on eBay or give away but can’t because it still wakens a little emotional throb when we find it after a year or ten. I’ve just thrown out a computer mouse. It sat in a box for three years, it didn’t really work very well and besides, I have two other perfectly good computer mice. But I used it to write four novels, and it took some effort to get rid of it. Ditto the two dozen Zip discs from the back of a desk drawer. I don’t even have a Zip drive any more. And all of the data on them is archived and backed up elsewhere. Why did I keep them?

At least I haven’t yet been driven to rent storage space. Before the recession bit, according to this excellent article, most rented storage space contained stuff people didn’t need, but couldn’t bear to throw away.
“There’s a lot of junk stored in our properties,” Ronald L. Havner Jr., Public Storage’s chief executive, told a symposium in New York in June. Walking through his company’s facilities around the country, he explained, “I’ve sometimes said that we could put a torch to this building and it would have zero effect on the local economy — because that’s how much junk is stored in our properties.”
But now, with in the US (and probably here, too, on a smaller scale), more and more people are renting storage spaces because they have lost their homes and need a space to park the stuff of their lives while they regroup, or are being rented by endangered businesses, for the same reason.
By shaking up the composition of renters, and their reasons for renting, the recession could be quietly tilting the character of American storage closer to what it was originally: a pragmatic solution to a sudden loss of space, rather than a convenient way of dealing with, or putting off dealing with, an excess of stuff.
Puts my own little problem in stark perspective. Anyway, before I go down the storage space route, I should really get around to building some shelves in my loft...

4 Comments:

Anonymous Sergey said...

Oh, Paul, I think it's common problem of book lovers and music lovers everythere.
I'm having the same problems and I can't name even one book which couldn't be useful for me or CD which I want to throw away ;)

September 17, 2009 9:04 PM  
Blogger George Berger said...

I now live in a studio apt with books all around me, in cases, piled up on my coffee table, and extending continuously from living-sleep to kitchen-area. It's cosy as can be with not one piece of kipple anywhere. Having said that, I've been using that word for years. PKD had a great ear: people understand me at once when I use it.

September 17, 2009 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Nathan said...

Books are a weird thing. We have put our house on the market this summer, and the thing that everyone, from estate agents to prospective buyers, comment upon are, "Gosh, what a lot of books!". To my wife and I, and our two kids, a house isn't normal unless it is full of books of all kinds, from picture books to reference works (the reason? Probably something to do with the fact that I am a teacher, my wife a university administrator with a PhD).
What has been odd is when we have been viewing properties to move to... no books! All kinds of houses, all kinds of people, but no books!
We have started to think we are freaks- or is it just that most people find books a disposable medium?

September 18, 2009 9:05 AM  
Blogger George Berger said...

Nathan, I assure you that there are lots of freaks like us all over the place. I'm trying to find room for one more bookcase in my 1-room apartment. But even if I buy one and fill it, my coffee-table will still have piles of books on it. My place will remain cosy.

September 18, 2009 12:44 PM  

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