Monday, April 03, 2006

Why Pruning Doesn't Always Work

I used to serve a customer at the bank who owned an orchard containing something like a thousand apple trees. The last time I saw him he was bemoaning the fact that some of the trees were not doing too well - not enough apples, not enough height, not enough bark, not enough sun, not enough blossom etc - and that something drastic had to be done.

For the trees with not enough bark the drastic measure was to chop them down. Apparently rabbits and hares like to chew the bark on fruit trees and a number of this man's trees had been chewed all the way around the bottom and this I'm told spells doom. No bark: No tree. Because the bark protects the tree like a dustjacket protects a book (perhaps that explains why in the antquiarian book world dustjackets are so important to the value of the book?).

For the trees with not enough height, blossom or apples, the answer to the problem was some rather brutal pruning. No good taking a bit off here and there - you have to really go for it, and if the tree doesn't survive that then they also get the chop.

And therein lies the problem with pruning your 'library'. If its going to work you have to be brutal; and each time I go in for a bit of book pruning I invariably fail. My most recent pruning session was about two months ago. I embarked on this task partly because I had brought a first edition of AL Kennedy's first novel Looking for the Possible Dance and decided it needed to have a proper space on the bookshelves and partly because of the dust. But by the time I'd got all the books off the shelves in order to dust everything I discovered I owned considerably more books than I realised and therefore had to do a bit of pruning. Isn't it amazing the books we are delighted to discover we own, the books we are not, and the books we had forgotten about completely?

So I managed to remove something like 90 books which were then left in piles on the bedroom floor. However in the weeks gone by certain books have found their way back onto the shelves - DH Lawrence and Ian McEwan to name just two who thought they could escape the charity shop pile. But the problem lies with my inability to part with a book I may, possibily, want to read in the future. I'm simply not brutal enough; if I was I would have taken all the books to the charity shop the very same day and not left them in piles on the bedroom floor for two months while I slowly returned them to the shelves. So pruning doesn't always have the desired result and therefore doesn't always work.

The man who owned the orchard was having the same problem with his apple trees - he was a little bit too attached to them and couldn't hack away as much tree as he really should have for fear of killing off some of the weaker trees. His answer to the problem was to rent the orchard out to some else. Perhaps that is what I should do with my books?

But then the person I rent them out to may get rid of all my AL Kennedy books and that would have serious consequences.

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