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I’ve been trying to cull my book collection over the past weeks, because I have way, way too many books, many of which I’ve never read and may never get to at this point. Part of the issue is that if there’s even the remotest chance that I might read it someday, I have trouble letting go, particularly if I feel that the book is likely out of print and difficult to get hold of.

photograph by Teemu Lehtinen, published under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

I was surveying the bookshelf this morning, debating about whether to get rid of A Handbook of Religious Symbols in Art and I realised that another facet of this issue is that my magpie nature is always looking for the bright, sparkling things that will catch my eye in a book. A striking image, an intriguing concept, a peculiar fact or unusual perspective on something. I know from experience that most of my stories are the result of serendipitous juxtapositions of often discrete ideas that catch my attention.

It’s like a LeMarchand box, except that instead of summoning a demon, solving the puzzle opens the way to a wellspring of inspiration. I’ll place one concept in proximity to another one (e.g. an article about the “off the map”, shadow city on the edge of Bogotá, the idea of Canada’s constitution as a “living tree”, the notion of colonialism’s marginalization of indigineous peoples–and suddenly, I’ve got the premise for Shadow City, my upcoming release…).

The problem is that the same combination never works more than once. So I have to keep hunting, searching for the next bright and sparkling thing to add to my collection and to keep handy, in the hopes that when placed alongside the other pieces of my collection, a new puzzle will be solved, and the inspiration will start flowing once more.

Of course, this insight doesn’t help solve my burgeoning book collection problem (all my bookshelves double stacked, with other books laid horizontally in piles on top of each row of books). I still have to talk myself out of keeping each and every book I put in the box for charity. E-books help a little, for those that are available–I’ll buy the electronic version and give away the print edition if I can bear to part with it. But bibliophile that I am, it’s a challenge. Wish me luck!

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