View from Rue Saint-Georges

Less Is More


The life-affirming pleasure of culling your shelves

Emily Carlin/Flickr

By Thomas Chatterton Williams

March 21, 2018


When I moved from Brooklyn to Paris, I parted with what in retrospect seems an ungodly sum of money to ship all of my belongings with me. I needed the furniture, but also, I decided, the books. Not just some or most of them but all of them, boxes full, hundreds and hundreds of them. I packed up all of my novels and all of my art monographs and all of my grad school texts and even all of those beat-up black-spined paperbacks from undergrad—Plato’s Theaetetus, Dante’s Divine Comedy,  Saint Augustine’s Confessions, and countless others. During the seven years I’ve lived here, I’ve accumulated many more books, not least review galleys that fall apart after a serious reading but nonetheless, more often than not, have ended up on overstuffed shelves throughout my apartment.

A few weeks ago, I had new shelving put up and finally forced myself, in the reshuffling, to do a thorough culling. At first it was excruciating, but eventually I managed to toss a few dozen books, maybe even a hundred, that, I admitted to myself, I am never going to read or reread. The feeling of seeing more empty space on my shelves and, for the most part, only the spines of books that interest me has been exhilarating—even life affirming. Where there were teetering, Strand-like stacks capable of inducing anxiety, there now is a rational order to my walls that is soothing. I don’t know why this lesson is so hard for me to remember and live by, but less is almost always more.

These are the first days of spring. This weekend I’ll be going through my wardrobe.

Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.

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