I’m a pack rat and proud of that fact. I keep the wrappers from Dove chocolates, the corks from bottle of wine I’ve enjoyed, clothes that don’t fit, and shoes with holes in the toe—just in case, I think. In case of what? I really need to start throwing things away. I mean, do I need the packaging for the alarm clock I bought last year? I can’t find the warranty and I’m pretty sure it would be expired anyway. Besides which, the dang thing works fine. But no matter how bad I am at getting rid of normal clutter in my life, I am ten times worse when it comes to books. It’s actually gotten a little ridiculous.
I’ve already filled both of the full-sized book shelves in my tiny little apartment and am now out of space. They’re stacked up on my windowsills and tucked away under my couch. I’ve got an entire box of them in my closet and a few ferreted away in the drawers of my desk and in random purses (which I also don’t use). It’s gotten slightly embarrassing, actually. And, of course, it’s very inconvenient when you move from place to place as often as I do. ("Can't you get rid of some these?" my mother asked during my most recent move. "But they're books," I replied.) I'm coming up on another one of those moves in a few weeks and I'm afraid the time has come. I must weed my collection.
I don't honestly know how I acquired so many books. Many of them I have bought, sure. Some of them are stolen from high school English classes and my mother's bookshelf. A good majority of them were gifts. People are forever giving me books and I never complain. I have an old volume of Russian poetry that I don't remember adding to the collection. It seems to have appeared with the book of Thoreau-esque essays about nature and a peeling copy of Pride and Prejudice. Still others I've inherited from family. They end up in my backpack on weekends I visit my parents. It should be mentioned that I also worked briefly at a publishing house and I attended this year's ALA conference so many of the books are ARCs that were literally shoved into my hands. They just seem to find me, the books, migrating into my apartment like ducks to water.
I would guess that I’ve read a little over two thirds of the books in my personal library and yet I keep bringing in more, much faster than I can actually read them and far more than I have space for.
It's time. I need an intervention.
So get rid of some of them, you say. Fill a duffel with them and drop them off at a used book store. Make them someone else's problem. If I only loved a book for the sake of it's story, I would be with you but here's the thing: I love books for their own sake. I love the smell of them and they way they feel in your hand and the cracking of the glue in the spine and the dry, rough edges of the pages. I love their weight and heft and form, not just the words.
I look at a book and I think, "What if this is the last copy there ever is? What if my mass market paperback copy of Catch-22 is the last one that ever exists, the only one to survive some horrible accident. Yossarian could be lost if I don't take care. Someday in a hundred or a thousand years there will only be this one copy so I have to save it. What if I give this copy away and someone dog ears the pages or--shudder of horror--leaves it laying open face down? I must save the books! All of the books!
It shouldn't be difficult to sort fifty or so of them out and get rid of them. I haven't cracked some of them in years and I own a few that I count as least favorite books. But each of these books represents a chapter of my life--if you'll pardon the analogy. I may have hated The Mill on the Floss but I hated it for reasons and I will never crack that copy without thinking of the English Lit class I took my senior year of college. (I'll never crack that copy again ever actually but that's entirely beside the point.) But beyond my abstract need to save the last of all of the books for posterity, I've developed a deep sentimental attachment to my collection. They've seen me through some tough spots, these old books. The Gone with the Wind with the spine cracking along all the good parts, the Mere Christianity that has seen me through an existential quarter-life crisis, the Alice in Wonderland with the gold lined pages and the one I actually read with the "Walrus and the Carpenter" pages marked. These have followed me through half a dozen moves and God-knows-how-many breakdowns, break-ups, and break throughs.
When I’m surrounded by my books, I feel like I’ve got all of my old friends with me. Chalk it up to an awkward childhood followed by an awkward adolescence, but I feel more comfortable with books than people. (Dr. Phil would have a field day with me.) I just can’t get rid of them. I mean, sure, I’ve never finished The Essential Dorothy Parker, but I might someday. And how would I like it if I looked and poor Dot wasn’t in the collection anymore? I’d have to go out to the nearest bookshop and purchase her replacement, along with half a dozen friends.