Saturday, February 27, 2021

Culling the Herd

I have far more books than shelf space. I could buy more bookshelves but then the living room would start to look like the library of an English country house and I’m just not in the mood for Victorian clocks and Wedgewood vases.

Unlike the previous FirstNerve Manor, the current house has no attic where I can stow boxes of books. And when it comes to limited basement storage space, wine takes priority.

So today I hauled out box B219: my collection of books by Stephen Jay Gould. Back in the last century I subscribed to Natural History magazine where Gould had a monthly column. These used to appeal to me as a graduate student and post-doc heavily into natural history and evolutionary theory—and the history of science concerning both. It was easier to buy the book (e.g., The Panda’s Thumb) than keep a stack of old magazines around for reference. With his enormous popularity—every collection of essays received a major review in the NYT—I figured the first editions would hold value.

Gould was something of an academic celebrity back then, despite (or perhaps because of) his thinly veiled Marxism and trendy political views. Even as I kept buying his books, I grew weary of his moralizing and his prose, especially the faux folksiness (his whole “just another nerdy baseball fan” persona really grated). I find it puzzling today that I bought so many of his books, especially as I disliked the leading role he and the odious Richard Lewontin played in the disgraceful attacks on Edward O. Wilson and sociobiology. What was I thinking? [Completionism is a frequent co-morbidity to bibliophilia—Ed.]

So this afternoon I cast a gimlet eye over a stack of 15 volumes by Gould. I’d already determined that there is no market for them (mint condition first edition or not). I decided to keep Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977) because it is a serious treatment of a major topic in evolutionary theory (no baseball references). Ditto The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002), even though I’ve never cracked it open. [Has anyone?—Ed.] Finally, I held on to The Mismeasure of Man (1981) because that book got Gould hoist on his own petard.

All the rest? They’re in the trash can and headed for the Larimer County landfill on Tuesday afternoon.

1 comment:

Dominican Perfumes said...

Besides that your writing style is fascinating, DO NOT SEND THE BOOKS TO THE LAND FILLS, that is a sacrilege. I will be happy to give them a home.