I was just reading this essay from the NY Times about weeding out books from a personal library, and it got me thinking.
Where books are concerned, there’s no question. I am a hoarder.
Almost every book that has come into my hands since high school is still here, in my collection. Three thousand, thirty-three books, in all. (Of which, for the record, I’ve read all but 31. Because yes, I keep all my books organized in an Excel database … doesn’t everyone?)
I can also tell you exactly how many I’ve gotten rid of over the years. 134. Because, yes, I track that, too.
Laura Miller says, in her article,
When you’re young and still constructing an identity, the physical emblems of your inner life appear more essential, and if you’re single, your bookshelves provide a way of advertising your discernment to potential mates.
I found that interesting–I don’t think of my library as a way of “advertising” myself, but it is very much a reflection of who I am. When I’m interested in something, I buy books. And even when I’ve moved on to other things … the books remain, both as reference and road signs, a flag marking that I Was Here.
Which also means that getting rid of books is like getting rid of part of my history … and who wants to do that? I sometimes wonder if, somehow, cleaning out my library would be a way of starting fresh? Like moving to a new town, or getting rid of all the old momentos from an ex … But what happens when you decide later that you wish you had kept them?
Of course, it’s true–space can be an issue. Little by little, I’ve taken over three closets in our house, as well as several walls, with bookcases. There is obviously a certain point where there simply is no more space. Or you suddenly ARE moving to a new town and you’ve got to cut down on weight. (Because, never forget, several thousand books are heavy.)
My philosophy is that you can’t have too many books, just too little space.
The other quote I really liked in this article?
I have turned out to be less rational about this than I thought, and have made my library into a charm against mortality. As long as I have a few unread books beckoning to me from across the room, I tell myself I can always find a little more time.
So true, so true… Or am I the only one who worries that, when she dies, she’s never going to know how the books she’s currently reading will end? I’m not a defeatist, dark kind of person, but sometimes I rush breathlessly to the end of a story just so that I can know what happens. (And I drove extra, extra carefully to the bookstore the morning the seventh Harry Potter book came out. I would have been tormented forever if I hadn’t had a chance to find out how that series ended.)
What about you? Do you hoard your books? Or do you just keep the jewels and easily, happily, pass on the dross so that your collection is as clean, pure, and magnificent as is possible? Which books would you absolutely NOT give up?