A couple of days ago, I decided to go all-in and order a set of all fourteen volumes of E. H. Carr's History of Soviet Russia. Now that it's on its way to me, I have to figure out where to shelve it.
Here I am following the advice of two people wiser than me. Back when I was hemming and hawing over the decision, I asked two of the smartest people I know: my son and his nephew. As they weighed my options for me, my son suggested that I should get the books if I could get rid of fourteen other books already on my shelves.
I thought this was a genius suggestion on so many levels. Setting aside the most obvious one, getting rid of fourteen other books meant also freeing up the time to read Carr's books, as well as the space. Plus, it was also a test of commitment: if I could find fourteen books on my shelves that I wanted to get rid of, then clearly I wanted the Carr volumes enough to order them, didn't I?
The problem is that, once I made the commitment, it was necessary to follow through. So today I went up to my office and started pulling books off of my shelves. Among the books I added to the stack were these:
A couple of years ago, I ran across these volumes at a library book sale. There the four volume history of the Peloponnesian War that the classical scholar Donald Kagan wrote back in the 1960s. I picked them up for an incredibly cheap price, and ever since they have sat on my shelf waiting to be read.
And that's why they were added to the stack. As interested as I am in reading more about the Peloponnesian War, I already have three other books on the subject, including Thucydides's classic work on the subject and Donald Kagan's own one-volume condensed updating of his earlier work. I actually had a chance to address this problem with an honest-to-goodness historian of the war (a student of Kagan himself, no less), who had written her own history of the conflict, yet when I asked her after our interview which one of my now seven volumes about the subject, her response was to keep all of them. In retrospect, she may not have been the best person to ask.
But now I need to create some room on my shelves for Carr's books and it's time to face up to the reality that I don't need seven books on a subject that never have a chance to teach. I rationalized it with the thought that these paperbacks are relatively easy to come by, and I could reacquire them again if I ever chose to do so. Yet even as I type these words, I find myself wondering: should I get rid of them, or perhaps Kagan's condensed volume instead?