From my strait-laced childhood in the U.S.S.R., to my savage adolescence in Israel, to my clandestine coming of age in Canada and Japan, I’ve always collected things obsessively. Chief among these obsessions was the desire to possess, compare, categorize, and classify—as a way of both understanding and escaping the maddeningly cruel world that surrounded me.
In 2022, I began to radically reframe my value system and arrived at the inevitable conclusion that I no longer wished to collect most things—let alone sequester them in my home, away from pleasure or use. I thus began to dispose of my many collections, most often by means of donation. But not all things can be given away.
On Christmas day that year, I incinerated the lion's share of my life's historical artifacts that had previously bound me to a noxious past. Having long known that everything is rhetoric and fiction, I no longer needed physical artifacts to prove to others—let alone to myself—that everything that has happened to me had been real (as if objects ever could). Manuscripts, it turned out, could burn, beautifully. History, it turned out, was a nightmare from which one could awake.
It was then that I embarked upon a project that might seem unimaginable to a Soviet émigré: I began to give away the books from my library, including those that I have had with me since Russia, since Israel, since Japan—since forever. At first, the task seemed impossible, but soon I became pleasantly inured to the act of almost effortlessly passing on the mortal frame of a text to another. I was forced to admit that—for the texts I remembered most vividly and adored most ardently—I had retained only a sort of colourised mental facsimile, compared to which subsequent perusals faded without fail.
The vaunted Russian tradition of repeated rereadings of a text, too, revealed to me to be nothing more than another domesticating process that muted meaning-making and stifled critical exegesis by encouraging the revisiting the same features of the same text. I was forced to admit that, while in the worst-case scenario there were books so unremarkable that I had reread them with zero net gain, in the best-case scenario there were books that I came to love so much that . . . I wished to never read them again.
The classist obligation to read (and enjoy—the inability to do so always marked one a confirmed plebeian) an interminably dull list of classics has offended my sensibilities since the time I learned to make out the written word, when well-meaning members of the intelligentsia would bend down to me to ask, “What are you reading right now?” Harried, my answers were as performative and insincere as they were at my doctoral candidacy exams, many decades later.
Today—whether I choose the agony of an insubordinate line of a poem; or wish to care for a fig tree whose slender figure could make me weep; or fret over viands and potions, or the sun-gold dress I might wear for a languorous queer soirée—I have no debts left for dead wood. I might gladly answer, “Nothing, at the moment.”
This class of texts—that satisfies the mean-case scenario, in which those books that, as behooves a proper graduate school faker-fakir, I would not only never have any interest in reading in earnest but also would, in a thousand ways be able to imagine much better than ever could be writ—must be banished from my polis.
This ongoing project has not only given me the impetus to reëngage with works that I have (quite literally) not touched in decades—whether by rereading a text before giving it away or by deciding to place a particular text into the long drawer to improve its vintage—but also the opportunity to match the character of each beloved book that I give away with that of its recipient—all this with the steadfast knowledge that any book I might truly wish to reëncounter would, should it wish it, without the penumbra of doubt, find its way back to me. 📚