“You give away books?” one of my friends asked me in horror. “I could never give away books. I keep them all.”
Well, maybe that’s because she’s young. I’ve got a good 25 years on her of reading and lugging books home and amassing a ragtag collection of books, everywhere books. They bulge out from the living-room bookcases we built when we moved in to our house 12 years ago. They populate the row of small bookcases we have in our entry hall, the shelves in my office and my husband’s office. They spill out of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases in our bedroom, they line both sides of our bed.
Our books, I would swear, breed. They’re as prolific as Octomom. They are taking over our house and our lives.
So, of course, we take action now and then. I nag my husband and he halfheartedly makes an appearance, all the while nervously eyeing the books I’m giving away. He considers me dangerous when I get into one of my clear-the-decks moods. He’s certain I’ll be giving away a treasure, given my impatience and lunatic zeal.
But, no. I have a system. I keep books I’ve loved and may read again. Or may not. Who knows? The point is, it makes me feel happy to see them on the shelves. I keep classic books. I keep books written by friends, books my husband and I have written. Books that mark eras in our lives.
The others — well, I try to be tough. I yank them out of the overflowing shelves and stack them on the floor. I’ll give some to friends, but most will be donated to charity. That’s because I’ve learned my lesson about going to Half-Priced Books. How many times have I done that — schlepping piles of perfectly good books I no longer have room for — left to wait and browse in their bookshelves while my sales figures are calculated? Waiting and browsing with growing enthusiasm as I find more and more books that I realize I haven’t read yet, but need to immediately?
The time passes and my name is called and they apologetically give me some kind of pittance. By this time, I’ve usually newly accumulated the precise number of books I’ve sold the store, which I bring home like trophies, all the while knowing this isn’t a particularly smart move, but unable to help myself. I am hopeless when it comes to books.
So now, we usually cart our old books to a local charity and I can feel good — no, great — about myself and the heroic strides I’ve made in brutally reducing our house’s teeming population of books. Yes, just great, until I chance to notice all the recent purchase packages that have been arriving from Amazon.
I give up. Sure, I know about Kindle and I’m certain we’ll be ponying up for one soon. But it’s not enough. I have to see the books and smell them and hold them in my grubby little hands and fall asleep reading them. They’re necessary to me, they make me happy. I know I’m an addict, but I’m not your usual addict. I know I can’t quit. That counts for something, right?
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)