I’ve been culling our bookshelves for a couple of weeks now. While I’ve collected a fair number to get rid of, perhaps fifty, it hasn’t made a huge difference. I have a lot of books. Most of them still aren’t in Goodreads (and I get that funny guilty twinge whenever it recommends a book I’ve already read and have on the shelves to me). And given that Goodreads lists about six hundred books on my “owned” shelf, and yes, I really did mean most of them still aren’t in the system…
…I have a lot of books.
It’s easier to cull them this time than it was in times before, and it’s nothing to do with not wanting to read. On top of the books, I have a particular attitude: I don’t want to be the kind of person who gets rid of a book. I have had this attitude for a long time.
- I’ve had it since before we bought our house.
- I’ve had it since before I rented my own place.
- I’ve had it since before I moved out and went to university.
- I’ve had it since before I went to boarding school in Switzerland, and that was for ninth grade.
- Like some of the books I still own, I’ve had it since I lived in London as a kid.
I think it’s very easy to embrace absolutes when you’re a kid. And it’s easy not to question those absolutes, especially when they’re not overtly harmful. I don’t want to be the kind of person who lets go of a book. Because books are awesome, dammit. I mean, that hasn’t changed for me–books are amazing, books make me happy, new ones can be a wonder and old ones are a comfort and I don’t see this changing. I love (the best of) my books, and I love the idea of books, and I have a respect for the physical integrity of books (even ones I don’t like) that’s… quite hard to override.
When I developed this attitude, I didn’t understand certain things that I understand now.
- The fact of limited space in housing, and how sheddy long-haired cats can be, and how books can pile up and collect dust.
- Shared space, really shared space, and the importance of not having someone you live with made uncomfortable by your housekeeping.
- The low-level cringe that a cluttered room induces.
- The embarrassment of finding you already own a book you just got–fortunately I’ve never bought one and had that happen, but there’ve been friend loans and library loans and… yeah, it’s not a good feeling.
I’m still not the kind of person who gets rid of books casually. But I don’t want to look at myself and say I’m the kind of person who won’t get a book out of her house if it’s making her unhappy to have it there. There’s nothing noble or devoted about that.
That’s damaging, albeit in a low-level constant-background what-weight-do-you-mean-oh-this-weight-I’ve-been-carrying-this-weight-so-long-I-don’t-hardly-notice-it-no-more, and I am, finally, too old for that shit.
 In a former tuberculosis sanitarium.
 This is totally different from buying a replacement for a battered copy, or deliberately picking up a second copy for love or loaning purposes. On this note, you should all read Days by James Lovegrove, Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, and Mystic River by Dennis Lehane. Seriously.