It is inevitable that one of these days, I’m going to move, and so I’ve been looking at all my belongings and wondering what I can downsize. First, of course, went the old toys, then the old clothes, but recently I have turned my eye to the bookshelves.
To many people, just the act of considering getting rid of books is sacrilege, especially when your whole life is about books, like mine is. In fact, the times I’ve actually tried to parse down my collection have been downright painful, and I am not the type of person to get attached to belongings. But I have a lot of books (though really not many in the scheme of things), and the fact is that I’m either going to have to leave them behind at my parents’ house or make room for them in the starter apartment we all know is going to be minuscule.
The ten-ish books I’ve managed to give away so far were either in Spanish (which I have no desire to read anymore since I’ve stopped taking classes) or were books I really, really didn’t like. Still on my shelves are many classics that I didn’t like but had lively class discussions about, the short story collections from my writing classes that I probably won’t read any more of (I just don’t get excited by short stories), and books I used to love but now can’t stand (I’m looking at you, Nicholas Sparks). Why can’t I get rid of them?
To solve this problem, I did what is becoming my go-to problem-solving technique: question my assumptions. This is something I learned from writing–sometimes if you question even why your character is the age you made her, the story suddenly opens up–but have found incredibly useful in other situations. The assumption here is that I need to keep my books. But why?
My first answer was: because I might want to reread them. This is certainly true of my favorites, but when I’m honest with myself, the ones I would consider rereading number seventy-five at most (that’s probably a gross overestimate), and I have well over that number on my shelves. Besides, in an effort to actually read all the books I’m attracted to, I’m trying not to reread books too often.
My second answer was: because I need to remember which books I’ve read. But with Goodreads, I can keep track of my books without keeping them physically, and I can also keep track of when I read them and what I thought of them. There’s no need to hold on to Nights on Rodanthe just because I want to remember I read it (and maybe I want to forget I read that one).
This is when my answers started getting ugly. I want to keep books to show off what I’ve read, particularly when it comes to the classics. I really didn’t like Dr. Faustus, but I still have it. I hated and did not understand As I Lay Dying, but I’ve moved it to at least three houses now. The only reason these books are still here is because they give me street cred. They are an act of bookaflage, which is a phenomenon I abhor, so I should probably get rid of them.
My final reason for keeping all these books is because of the reactions I get when people see how many books I have. It impresses everyone, and so I want to keep each physical book I have–whether I’ve actually read it or not–around. But that is just another form of bookaflage, of using books to show off, and that’s not a legitimate reason for me to do something.
And so, even though my heart is still heavy, I think it’s time for me to say goodbye to the books I’ll never read again. After all, books are meant to be read, not locked up. Any one want a copy of The Notebook?