I There were, or rather, many books. Still, I guess, at least by the standards of the average home, but I’m doing my best to get rid of it. I have given hundreds in the last two years. If the thought fills you with dread, then look away from this next part, where I admit that sometimes I recycle them. Only the really objectionable ones, which I think I am saving the reader by taking them out of circulation.
After I decide to go through the shelves and discard any book I have at home because of quality, subject, politics or author (look on your shelves and you have your counterparts. ). Since then, I’ve been jettisoning them every few months with no regrets. Only twice have I needed to find something in a book I had thrown away and repurchase a cheap secondhand copy.
Some treat books as totemic, magical objects. I know, I was one. About 10 years ago, my (divorced) parents moved home at the same time, and gifted me with several books that they assumed I might feel sentimental about, but which became a kind of albatross in my relationship. When I lived with my husband, he had very few books, not because he was not a reader, but because he grew up in a Buddhist family, preferring an uncluttered environment and giving little importance to material things. Once he has read a book, he donates it or gives it away, and keeps only those he is sure to read again. Extreme book-fetishists might argue that I should let her go, but why should she be forced to live with my hoarding?
I was thinking about her the other day when I saw an Internet discussion about a bookstore employee who said he owned only one book at a time, bought a new one after reading the last one, and got rid of it. “Horrible! How could he? I couldn’t!” People wrote, which leads me to reflect again on the contemporary tendency to treat books as a form of identity.
This phenomenon is well summed up by a poster that has been following me around the Internet as an advertisement for some time, under the mistaken impression that I love cats and read books – and, in fact, have written books about cats – that are my taste. was Pinned on interior decoration. The poster features a cat and carries the slogan: “What I do, I read books, I drink tea and I know things.”
Apologies if you own this poster, but to me it sums up everything smug and middle class about the cult of book ownership. I don’t mean reading – if you’re still lucky enough to have a local library, that’s a pastime that’s accessible to almost everyone. No, I specifically mean owning a lot of books and bragging about it, treating having a lot of books as a stand-in for one’s personality, or believing that owning a lot of books makes one “know things.”
I understand that some books can feel important and precious. I grew up in a family where there were lots of books on the shelves, although we couldn’t always buy new ones. I have never forgotten that privilege, nor the position I now find myself in, where I am sometimes sent free books. Maybe that’s why I find the idea of hoarding them a bit sad – there’s even a Japanese word, Tsundoku, to allow books to pile up unread. Instead, I choose to put my donations in places where people can get the most out of them, or leave them on the outside wall of my house, where they always get lost.
I found my own copy of George Eliot’s Middlemarch through similar means. Inside, someone shouts “Read to me!” wrote, and it became the necessary inspiration for tackling that great novel. Why put it on my shelf when I’m done, when someone else can enjoy it like I did? My husband says I’m still in recovery, and I definitely have a lot to get rid of, but frankly, I can’t wait.