I just finished moving into a new apartment (more on that later), and as I sit here in my combination office / living room / dining room / kitchen I can’t help but ponder a particular dilemma that I have regarding books.
In my old house I had a dedicated office which was basically an entire attic, and had several bookshelves that I somehow managed to fill over the past several years. Many of the books I have read — others I’ve squirreled away for later (which I have been reliably informed is described by the Japanese word ‘Tsundoku’). I’ve always loved bookstores and libraries, and having one in my own house seemed like it would be the greatest thing in the world.
That is until I had to hoist the bastards up the side of a mountain, stack them in a U-Haul, and then carry them by the dolly-load into my new abode.
Even my poor mother, surveying the chaos of the boxes of books, meekly commented “wow you sure do have a lot of books!”
I’ve spent the past week putting everything in its place, but I’ve struggled with the books. The piles are neverending, and I find them strewn all around, occupying corners of rooms or filling cabinets I didn’t even realize existed. I now have room for only a single propeepr bookshelf, so clearly the most meaningful books take precedence. There are books that have changed my life, that have changed the way I think about the world (or at least a particular subject within it), that I have marked up and refer back to often. Those get the top shelf. But then the top shelf gets filled up, so they tend to trickle down to the lower shelves as well. There are books that I want to re-read at some point, so I definitely want to hang onto them. But then there are books that I know in my heart, despite the fact that I enjoyed reading them or appreciated the aesthetics of them on my shelf, that I will never actually read again. Those, with trepidation, go into a pile to turn into my local used bookstore for credit.
At least I can delude myself that they want to go to the used bookstore; to end up on someone else’s shelf, in the hands of another reader, bringing entertainment and knowledge to more people. But the cold reality is I’m tossing them out like yesterday’s trash, to sit abandoned, yellowing and moldering, on a used store bookshelf, waiting for someone to finally come along and free them.
Okay, maybe it’s really not that bad.
And then comes the awkward third category: books that I haven’t read yet, which therefore haven’t merited the “good bookshelf,” but likewise haven’t been denigrated to the donation pile yet. What do I do with those? Clearly leaving them in boxes isn’t the right answer. So far the solution I’ve come up with is the stack them veritically in piles in the top of my living room coat closet. This way I still have them, and they’re out of the way. As I work through them I’ll inevitably sort them into the “good” piles and the “bad” piles. But that will take time — years, potentially, just given the number of books. And inevtibaly more will be added to the pile as I go.
I’ve spent hours trying to track down this one random video I watched like 5 years ago which contains an anecdote relevant to this blog post, but so far I haven’t been able to find the needle in the haystack, so this is a poor repititon of a quote about a third party from a video watched half a decade ago. Take that as you will. But this is what stuck in my brain. As best I remember it, author and vlogger John Green’s assistant Rosianna Halse Rojas had a similar situation going on, and had to implement a rule where she was only ever allowed to keep 50 books. That’s it — 50 single, solitary books. Anytime she added a new one that she wanted to keep, she had to donate an old one. While I don’t want to limit myself to quite that level of specificity, I find myself appreciating the spirit of the rule.
The truth is that books as physical objects take up space. And while you love them, and connect with them, they’re difficult to manage from an inventory perspective (especially when, like me, you downsize from a house to a one bedroom apartment).
I’m not sure what the point of all this is, really. Perhaps it’s just for me to come to terms with the idea. It goes along with how I’ve been living from a digital / physical standpoint lately, anyway. I typically read books on my eReader. Only when a book is particularly special or meaningful do I purchase a physical copy (the same goes for music, movies, and other forms of media - digital first, then physical if I particularly cherised the work). This will help me moving forward, but it doesn’t mitigate the issue I have right now (namely, a ton of books and no space). I guess I need to just buckle down and get through them, and decide their fates. But I know that more will sneak in. I’ll be in a used bookstore and stumble across a book I just have to have, and then slowly but surely I drown under the weight of more and more books.
So I have to be ruthless. I have to let the dream of my home library die. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in your life, and so many books you can get through. The ones that are especially important can stick around, but each one has a tangible and meaningful cost of both storage and preservation. If it’s not something I will return to again, I have to set it free.
In the meantime, I’m sure I can find some more nooks and crannies. Maybe there’s a book out there with advice.