How many books do you have?
I came across this article on book hoarding earlier and it got me thinking.
We’re planning to move house soon and one of the first things on my to do list, before I even think about packing, is to go through my book collection and scale it back a bit.
As I wrote this post, I quickly scanned my bookshelves and made a very rough inventory. I must have easily over 500 books, the majority of them novels.
I’ve never found it easy to part with my possessions. If you went through my things, you’d probably find bank statements for accounts I don’t even have any more (just in case) and piles of old receipts that I’ve shoved into a drawer and forgotten about. Tidying is not one of my skills. I often need time to mentally let go of an item before I can physically purge it from the house.
But cleaning out my books isn’t the same as cleaning out my wardrobe, or even the piles of memorabilia and inspirational material left over from my wedding.
Deciding to part with a book is hard on a more meaningful level.
There are books on my shelves that I’ll never read, but I don’t want to part with the possibility that, one day, I might. There are books that I’ve read and hated, or been so bored by that I can’t recall a single thing about them. Yet still something keeps me from boxing them up and taking them to the charity shop.
Maybe it’s because each book on my shelf says something about me and the things that have captured my imagination. There’s the copy of Homer’s Odyssey that I slogged through for three months straight, reading the verse line by line because I loved Virgil’s Aeneid. Or there’s the pile of books by Che Guevara and Jack Kerouac that I read at university when I was writing about freedom and revolution and travel. There are the old copies of Point Horror or Sweet Valley High that I read so many times as a kid that the pages have started to turn yellow. There are the books that stirred something in me, the ones I reread whenever I have the chance; each time taking something different from the story.
In a way, each book is an achievement. Not just the copy of Dante’s Inferno that I hang on to in case I ever need to refer back to it. I don’t keep it around to show off to anyone who visits my house – look at what I’ve read – I keep it to remind myself. There are the books I struggled with, but came to love; the ones I wanted so badly to understand, to adore, but could find nothing to appreciate.
I want to remember all the snippets of knowledge, all the phrases that can be found within those pages. Even the bad ones offer something, however small.
I’m the sort of person who will collect books as objects, not only to read. I have a copy of Moby Dick in Icelandic, because it reminds me of travelling to a country I fell in love with. The book is a thing to be revered, to conjure up memories. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s the same reason I have three copies of Wuthering Heights, even though I never enjoyed it – although, to be fair, the third copy came to me by accident rather design after an ISBN mix up with an online order.
So how am I going to dispose of my books?
I’ve been preparing myself for a while, mentally listing the ones that I’ll miss the least. But still, they have their fingers clutching at my heart.
I know I need to clear out my bookshelves to make space for new stories, to build a collection that more accurately reflects the sort of books I’ve loved and not only the ones I’ve been sent to review, but it will be tough.
Hopefully it will give me chance to rediscover some of the novels that I’d forgotten and some of the ones that have long been on my to read list.
And if all else fails, I guess I’m going to need a bigger pile of boxes.