I have a problem with books.
I cannot part with them. But I’m out of room, so something has to give. Sure, after college, I sold quite a few of the texts I’d used for classes I knew I’d never reference again – really, what were the odds of needing cell biology again? But over my undergrad career, there were many, many occasions on which we would only be assigned to read a couple chapters out of a book, and I resolved to go back and read the rest someday to assuage my piqued interest. In many cases, I did indeed finish the books on nationalism and European history, especially as I worked on my thesis (on the effect EU membership would have on the Translyvanian Magyar population).
Nearly a decade later, most haven’t been touched since I moved into this house nearly five years ago. And while the topics still appeal to me, I wonder if I’ll ever realistically revisit them.
I also collected dozens – scores? – of books from used book sales across Hyde Park, and cleaned up every year at the Divinity School book sale.
Some of the books have had a home on my shelves since childhood, dutifully following me from my parents’ house to dorm, through a string of apartments, and are still treasured. Among those are the two dozen or so that I picked to take to my dorm room – a choice that I agonized over for weeks. When I went home for breaks, I would eagerly swap out titles for fresh ones.
Others are new, snapped up in the last few months but largely unread. (I haven’t read a single non-class-related book since school started in September, and it’s driving me crazy.)
I built the two tall bookcases with my dad the summer before moving into my first apartment, lovingly cutting and sanding and staining late at night after getting home from my terrible IHOP job. My dad built one of the smaller ones when I was a kid.
But since I’ve moved in, I’ve had a couple boxes of books banished to the basement, as there’s no room on the overflowing cases. Another couple boxes sit in the back of the office closet, mostly old class books I tried to sell via Amazon but the list price didn’t make it worth my time. Those should be donated.
Even so, it’s tough to part with books. Looking over the shelves, each one tells a story of part of my past. I picked every book for a reason, whether it was the class on History and Memory of the American South or when I was taking the Wealth, Power and Virtue classes that shaped so many of the beliefs I hold dear. Over time, I’ve picked up books friends gushed over as “life changing,” and they were usually right. When I lived in Hungary, the only novels I could find in English were the identically-spined British Penguin Popular Classics series, and so began my love affair with Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence and the Brontë sisters. In college, I allowed myself to buy one Dover Thrift Edition for every class text I bought used online, which proved greatly motivating.
Of course, there’s also a mismash of brainless chick-lit novels, cookbooks and home improvement books. And the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, complete with reading glass, that makes Scrabble almost too easy.
So you understand my quandary. How can I get rid of something that has so shaped who I’ve become? And who knows what my future children may learn from my books? Growing up, I remember reading my dad’s college books – a lot of literature, but also several genetics and economics books from the 70s – and reveling at the whole new world that opened to me. My mom had sold most of her books, and I would wonder what she had read and that influenced her.
Over Christmas, when I have some time off, I’ll go through the shelves and purge what can go, starting with the boxes in the basement and closet. But realistically, I may not be able to get rid of much that’s currently shelf-worthy.
It may be time to build another bookcase.
What’s one book that you absolutely can’t part with?
Not pictured: the third office bookcase, which is tucked behind an armchair, making it tough to get a picture. Plus, it’s where the most egregious overflow piles – including stacks of recipes to try – have formed.
The paperback edition of LOTR I bought in 1974, as a high school student. First books I ever bought, and I love them dearly, even as the covers fall off. I replaced them with newer copies for the kids to read a few eyars back – no one but moi touches my LOTR!
Excellent choice, Jody! I know what you mean about covers falling off – my first cookbook, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, lost its covers and split into three chunks, and yet I cling to it. I got a new hardcover edition for Christmas last year, which I love to use while planning, but when it comes time to actually cook, I pull out the decrepit old edition, complete with splashes and my penciled notations.
Totally understand. David finally convinced me a few years ago that we needed to trim down our collection. The new rule is that in order to buy new books, some old ones must be removed from the shelves. 🙂 It took me a while to realize that I had kind of wrapped up my identity in the books on my shelves–that I would worry about which ones were displayed… what someone would think about me based on the books that were there! Anyway–now we only have one 5-shelf bookshelf that is double-booked. The other 3 are down to a single row of books on each shelf. But don’t make me count the kids books on the shelf in their room…. 🙂 I know I still need to purge more… but its so painful. Especially those “I’ll read that when I have time” books. Argh.
So, to answer your question… I would not part with “Mountains beyond Mountains” the book about Paul Farmer. Every time I re-read it something else jumps out at me. Oh, and I met him once which kind of sealed the deal. 🙂
David says he would not part with his Frederick Buechner books.
So there you go. Build that bookshelf if you need to. 🙂
Yeah, I’ve used that “to buy one you must remove one” rule – that’s how the boxes in the office closet got started! I do the same – carefully picking which books are most visible on display. I think when I was moving nearly every year, I naturally had a to purge a bit, but I’ve been here five years now and my 20 shelves are bulging! But it’s so good to instill that love of books in your kids – it will pay off in the long run.
Thanks for sharing your favorites – I have added to my “to read” list – though I’ll likely check out from our fabulous local library.
And building a bookcase might be a father/daughter project in January or February, once I finish the bathroom.
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