Books are my favorite things. Nothing makes me happier than a stack of unread novels or a row of “new” badges across the top row of my Kindle. Most of my childhood was spent with my nose buried in a paperback, and my favorite places to go on the weekend were the library and the used bookstore. Bask in my awesomeness. In college, I spent four years reading and writing, and they gave me a degree in English. Seemed like an eminently fair trade.
As anyone who has ever moved can attest, books are heavy. I have moved six times in the last 15 years, and each time I have hauled around an ever-expanding library. Jason gave me a Kindle for Christmas 2011, which sharply curtailed the number of physical books I brought home. I still could not resist the siren song of Chamblin’s Bookmine in Jacksonville.
No one can.
Two things happened last year to make me re-consider my personal library. The first was reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo. As some brilliant person said, “this is a bat-shit crazy woman who gives good advice.” In her book, she is super-harsh about book ownership, which made me clutch at my throat in horror. Keep only around 30 books? You are not my people, Marie Kondo. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered how many books I needed to hang onto. At this point in my life, I read only for pleasure and occasionally to expand my knowledge base. I read anything and everything, and the vast majority is fiction.
In short, I do not have a library. I have a hodgepodge. I have a jumble.
The second thing that caused me to re-evaluate my library was one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. I am not even kidding. I bought a used copy of Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” at Chamblin’s and began devouring it. When I got to the end of the first chapter, I discovered that the last page was missing. Bummer, dude, I thought, but kept reading.
I reached the end of the second chapter. The last page was missing.
And the last page of the third chapter. And so on. Some ASSHAT had removed the last page of every chapter in the book. I was horrified. Who does that?!?!?!
My problem was this: even though I knew the book was ruined, I couldn’t get rid of it. I put it in the recycling bin five times, and took it back out five times.
I started to think maybe my love for books had become an unhealthy attachment.
My bookshelf purge is ongoing, but I’ve made progress. The first category I tackled was Books From College. Who was I trying to impress with my collection of light Russian literature? Was I ever going to re-read my textbook from Ancient Greek? Could I ever muster the anger to re-read political books? But how will people know I’m smart if I don’t keep a lot of smarty-pants books around???
The next category was Books I’m Keeping Just In Case They Are Assigned To The Kids At Some Point. This is absurd. If I didn’t personally like the book, it was escorted out of the building.
The third group I’ve been dealing with is Books I Bought But Haven’t Read Yet. There were a surprising number of these lurking in my shelves. I weeded through them mercilessly, and gave myself a year to read the keepers. The unread books still take up an entire shelf.
I’m not sure what my end game is, yet. I will never have zero books – I will also never get down to Marie Kondo’s suggested 30. But I’m learning I don’t need the physical presence of lots of books to advertise my identity. “Look at meeee! I’m a nerrrrd!”
I’ve also discovered that I love giving books to other readers. I finished a book last Monday and gave it to a friend on Tuesday. I don’t have to worry about if or when it will be returned to me, and I don’t have to find space for it. This is a win.
You might be wondering what happened to my ruined copy of “Stardust” in all this. I took it back to Chamblin’s and explained to the nice hipster at the counter what happened. “I need you to take this from me,” I said. “Don’t tell me what you’re going to do with it. Let me believe you have a book cemetery out back.”
Bless her, she took it. She even promised to give it a Viking-esque send-off, in a tiny flaming boat.
Book lovers. We get each other.