What to keep

Like the rest of the privileged world, I am decluttering my life. That even means my bookshelves. Some books are easy to put in the ‘donate’ pile (decades-old guidebooks,  literary fiction that I enjoyed but know I don’t need to read again) but many books fall in a gray area and so I am re-reading a few to help me decide whether to keep or give. 

Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki
I have two books by Tanizaki, the other being The Makioka Sisters, which was the basis of a 1983 movie that I loved and left me with a memory of a shot of a beautiful red silk kimono. I must have bought both books after seeing the movie.  Some Prefer Nettles, published in 1955, is much shorter, and therefore an easier read although it assumes a knowledge of Japanese culture and geography that I don’t have. The plot revolves around a couple in the 1920s who have made a decision to divorce but make only the smallest steps toward acting on their decision. Mannered but with surprisingly modern attitudes, it’s a keeper because I love to read books by local authors when I travel and a trip in rural Japan is on my wish list.  With its descriptions of theatre and place, Some Prefer Nettles will help set the mood I want on that eventual trip.

The Cloud Forest by Peter Matthiessen.
The date on the price sticker tells me I bought this after my trip to the Amazon, which makes sense because I came home wanting to learn more. I loved Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard the first time I read it but on the second reading, his selfish treatment of his family ruined the book for me. On the second reading of The Cloud Forest, published in 1961, his cluelessness about the vulnerability of the Amazon is infuriating. He wrote: “It is difficult to accept that a wilderness of this dimension still exists… we cannot really enter it but only skirt its edges. This will change, of course, but it will change slowly.”  Material deforestation of the Amazon began right after the book was published, and 60 years later, at least 20% of the rainforest is gone. That feels fast, especially since a healthy Amazonian ecosystem is critical to avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.  While it may not be fair to blame Matthiessen — his arrogance reflected the optimism of the times, plus he was writing a traveler’s tale with a focus on birds and not an analysis of potential threats to the Amazon — his point of view hasn’t aged well. I hope someone else will enjoy it.

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