Readers, have you ever known what it feels like to destroy the work of your own hands - and feet and legs and brain? I have reached the stage, in the process I described here, of having to cull my cricket books. This is a library of approaching 2,500 items and, according to my calculations of the shelf space that will be sensibly available for the purpose in the new house, I need to cut it (the cricket collection, not the house) approximately in half. Can you imagine what this is like? For maybe 15 years from 1977, I used to go about in my spare time, collecting them. I would cycle to second-hand bookshops in Stockport and Chorlton and the centre of Manchester. When I went to another town or city, to give a paper or visit friends or watch cricket or whatever, I'd research the whereabouts of the second-hand bookshops beforehand. I looked in Toronto, I looked in Amsterdam, I looked in Cape Town - and in Cardiff and Brighton and Birmingham and Leeds and Glasgow. I trudged many a mile up and down the Charing Cross Road before meetings of the New Left Review editorial committee. Always the search: for a pre-War Wisden, or some other rarity, or even something run-of-the-mill, that I didn't yet have. In more recent years the degree of commitment subsided and the pace of the collecting slowed down. You've got more than 2,000 books on cricket, a few more here or there ain't gonna make much difference - plus the fact that in this domain the passion for completeness would be futile. You'd need to be a true obsessive to think you could even nearly approach it; and being, as you will know, a man of proper moderation, I was protected from getting carried away.
But the pain now, oh the pain - to have to break up a collection so carefully and lovingly put together. Actually, truth be told, the experience is more mixed than this. Pain there certainly is when I view the books as - what they are - a collection, and think of losing from it an item I know to be a good one. However, when I adopt a more utilitarian view, governed by the question 'Which of these books are you really interested in, likely to read, re-read, take down off the shelf to refer to?', then it's not so difficult. Had I not made myself a collector of cricket books in the first place, I would never have acquired many of these items. When I started out my intention was to be selective: to focus on Test cricket, my main cricketing passion, and not bother with what interested me less or not at all. But one thing soon led to another - boundaries, as one might call them here, can be fuzzy - and then things got altogether out of a hand. Soon I was collecting everything of a cricketing nature: books on how to bowl a leg-break, county annuals, one-day cricket, cricket fiction, benefit brochures and magazines - you name it.
Well, the knife is now out. I console myself, when I need to, with the thought that to most people a collection of even only 1,000 cricket books would seem quite a big one.
[To anyone nearby, interested and willing to do their own fetching I will say this: the books that are going I'm not (literally) giving away. But in a manner of speaking I will be giving them away - for a song.]