the only 21 books i need

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much stuff I own. Not, like, nice things, but STUFF — the DVDs and books and blankets and measuring cups I’ve collected. All it’s doing is creating clutter and weighing me down. If the zombie apocalypse started tomorrow, it would be hard for me to decide what to throw in my car and take with me. In the time it will take me to carefully pack the truck, I will surely be eaten. So I want to start trying to de-stuff my life, not just for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, but also to unload all this crap I don’t need.

Recently, the task was books.

I separated my entire collection of books into two piles — the books I will read again, and the books I won’t. (It’s highly unlikely I’m going to read my undergraduate Supreme Court casebook again, even though Justice Alito signed Article III in the reference section.)

The keep pile included only 21 books. Here are some of them:

Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing shooting scripts. I would rather read Sorkin scripts than any novel; he is my favorite writer, regardless of medium, and these two books are like brain candy. I flagged this speech.

The Time Traveler’s Wife. This is seriously my favorite book of all time. I love time travel romances, but too often, especially when these stories are on television, the logistics get all messed up and then I get ragey. (I’m looking at you, season five of Lost.) But the time travel details in this book never conflict with each other. My favorite part is the underlying message about fate: Clare loves Henry because he came to her throughout her childhood, and she recognizes him as an adult; Henry only goes to Clare’s childhood because they are in love in the future. THE LOVE COMES FROM NOWHERE.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. DON’T JUDGE ME IT’S MY FAVORITE. I love stories where a big group of heroes has to join together against a common enemy, like The Avengers or the season four finale of Alias. This is the best Harry Potter book, and I will defend it forever. It’s also my favorite movie.

Kate Chopin’s collected novels and stories. It’s just so efficient! Everything she ever wrote in one volume! This is my favorite short story of hers.

To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. Cliche, but duh.

The Lost Encyclopedia. I don’t know, I just love it.

Emily Post’s Etiquette. You’d be surprised by how often I refer to this book — do you tip on carryout? How do I respond to this passive-aggressive email? Who gets invited to bridal showers and bachelorette parties? USEFUL, even in a zombie apocalypse.

The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. There are a lot of cookbooks in the give-away pile, because this, plus Cooks Illustrated back issues, are the only recipes I need that I can’t get online. Need to know how to braise a chicken? Page 253.

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique. The Feminine Mystique was originally published in 1963, and I am holding out hope that it will one day help Betty Draper stop being such a nasty-ass bitch.My copy has a lot of markings in it and an introduction from Anna Quindlen.

Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale. In a season three flashback episode of Fringe, young Olivia reads this 750-page book, and I think I ordered it from Amazon that night. It is masterful, a beautiful story about love and redemption and magic. (Also, time travel — are you sensing a theme?) Downtonian Jessica Brown-Findlay is playing Beverly in the movie, which is being directed by Fringe writer-director-producer Akiva Goldsman. Also there is a flying horse.

The rest of the books are going in a big cardboard box to set on the stoop. Free stuff, neighborhood!