Books, a Love Affair

There’s lots of ways to divide people into groups. There’s people who love the country and those who love the city; there’s people who love poetry and those who don’t; there’s people who love George R R Martin and those who don’t; there’s people who understand binary and those who don’t; there’s people who think Carrot Top is funny and everyone else; and there’s people who buy and own books– lots of books!– and those who don’t.

My friends are pretty evenly split between book owners and book renters (library users). Both groups love books and love reading, but one group invests money, time, and physical space on acquiring and housing books and one group invests their money, time, and physical space on other things. One group has stacked bookshelves, stacks of books, piles of books, mounds of books, and one group doesn’t. One group has to schlepp tens of (heavy) boxes of (heavy) books up and down stairs when they move, and one group doesn’t.

I’m in the first group, and I’m kind of getting tired of it.

When Nesko and I had a kid, and that kid started becoming mobile, we had to move all of our books to much higher shelves. We got rid of all our tall free-standing bookcases so Niko wouldn’t pull them down on himself. Then, about a year ago, it looked very seriously like we would be moving very soon, and to much smaller quarters. I proceeded by acquiring large numbers of boxes and putting things into those boxes, preparing to move. I packed up 14 large boxes of books (as well as three really big boxes of board games and 3 huge boxes of kitchen stuff). Then all those things stayed boxed up for months and months and we didn’t miss most of it. I did miss some things. I wanted to play a few of the board games we had packed away, I missed my extra mixing bowls and glass pyrex measuring cups, for instance. As part of spring cleaning we opened up our boxed up kitchen things and got rid of most of them. We unpacked our games and weeded through them, stripping some down for parts (tokens, money, dice, etc) and setting a few aside to give away. Those we’re keeping are on shelves in two categories: 1) Keep 2) play and see if we enjoy them, if not get rid of them.

Meanwhile our books are still packed up and I haven’t NEEDED to get into any of those books and we’ve permanently acquired very few new books. I’ve checked out and read almost 70 new-to-me books from the library this year, and after reading them I’ve returned them. There’s a very small handful of those books that I would have liked to keep forever. And more and more I like an apartment that isn’t cluttered with STUFF, especially as we have an apartment that’s crammed full of toys and kid books and games.

When I packed up the books, I noted what books where in what boxes. I have an entire inventory. (I did the same for the games and kitchen stuff.) I’d been meaning to type that list up and I finished doing so the other day. Every book that was packed away for storage is now entered in a spreadsheet. It was emotional. I thought of all those books and how much I love books, and how hard it was to find some of those books, and how other books were gifts from people who know me really well and love me. I have a bunch of books on Celtic history that Nesko brought back from a layover in England, from when his trip to Montenegro was cut short because of the bombing. I have a bunch of books I spent a long period of time tracking down and spent serious money on purchasing and shipping. I have books I’ve read and re-read time and time again, and I have books I’ve read once or twice only. And I started thinking of winnowing down our book holdings.

And I had a mini panic attack.

Seriously, I felt anxiety! There were surges of emotions! I felt like I was betraying my books! Isn’t that weird? I have synesthesia and apparently part of that is sometimes people who are synesthetes anthropomorphize inanimate objects and ascribe emotions to that. Books are inanimate! They don’t care what happens to them! But I felt like I was abandoning them, like they wouldn’t be loved if I got rid of them.

I also panicked because OMG what if I NEEEEEEEEED THESE BOOKS down the line? OMG what if all libraries and the internet cease to exist and I no longer have access to this information? Panic panic panic panic. But that’s silly, too.

I went through and I highlighted about half the books, marking them to be gotten rid of. I calmed down a bit. I might go through and mark more to get rid of. Of the books I’m keeping, a bunch are books I think Niko will like to read when he’s in middle school which isn’t that far off any more. I don’t want to get rid of books just to re-purchase them or whatever.

I remember, as a kid, always having something to read at home. My dad’s a book collector, not in a serious OMG HUNTING DOWN FIRST EDITIONS kind of way (although I think he would be if he had more disposable income) but in a bibliophile way. I grew up with shelves and stacks and mounds of books: books in the living room and in the bedroom and in the kitchen and on the couch and in the bathroom and on top of the tv. There were so many books there was always something new. History books, poetry, literature, fiction, memoir, science. That feels so normal to me. It’s honestly weird to have, right now, a single shelf only for our owned books. I feel almost naked!

And, weirdly, I feel defensive. Like I can’t prove I read books. No, really, I read a lot! I’ve read hundreds of books! Don’t judge me by the scanty offerings on my shelf! I’ve read everything Roger Zelazny has published, you just can’t tell because his books aren’t on display! I’m a Tolkein fan, an Ellen Kushner fan, A Cherie Priest fan, a Lois McMaster Bujold fan! I have a first edition hard cover of Scott Lynch’s “Lies Of Locke Lamora”! I LIKED HIM BEFORE HE WAS COOL OK. I have most of the run of “Blade Of The Immortal,” I have the Johannes Cabal books published in the USA! I’m cool! I’m a legit nerd/geek! REALLY I AM. I’M SO COOL YOU GUYS. LOOK AT THIS SNAPSHOT OF HOW COOL I AM, HOW WORTHY, HOW GREAT AND QUIRKY MY TASTE IS. JUDGE ME. JUDGE MEEEEEEEEE.

We will be moving again at some point.

I’m tired of hauling books around.

I’m tired of not having enough space, not having enough shelves, not having enough flat surfaces.

I’m becoming one of THOSE people, a book renter instead of a book owner.

From now on, I’m only going to keep books that are really and honestly meaningful, books that I love, books that resonate, books that I return to again and again.

Eventually, I think, I’m going to get a Reader or Tablet and start buying electronic versions of books I enjoy. But that’s out of my price range at the moment, and I do resent the DRM included on most traditionally published books.

If you live in Chicago, let me know if you’d be interested in a big book swap party at my place. We can all bring the books we don’t want/need any more and trade for other books, and anything left over I’ll donate to our community center to sell at a book fair fundraiser (or use in their classroom).

Having made the decision to get rid of books, to literally cut my book collection in half, I’m already feeling lighter. It was a struggle to get to this place, but it feels good. I still experience moments of BUT WAIT–! freakout but they’re coming less and less. Letting go is hard, but it’s something I can do.

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Blog post copyright Brigid Keely Barjaktarevic. Originally posted at Words Words Words Art. If you enjoy this blog, check out my parenting blog at Now Showing!.

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