I have written so many posts about getting rid of books and downsizing book collections I must include at least one that defends having a collection at all. Wouldn’t it just be better to get rid of all the books, free up space and make moving easier?
I have taken a verbal pouncing, more than once, from friends whose philosophy is read and discard. They don’t understand why I keep books. Here’s why:
Beyond feeling that favorite books are old friends and I enjoy their company, I also know that sometimes I miss something in the first reading; especially if it’s a “can’t wait to see what happens” kind of book (like the last few volumes of the Harry Potter series). Occasionally, I will devour a book so quickly I miss the subtle nuances, the delicate seasonings, the small details of an intricate plot.
I also recognize that despite their material appearance, books are essentially fluid. Consider the character of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. I read the book for the first time at age 16 in a stay-up-all-night-to–finish-the-book sitting. I loved the story but really disliked Scarlet. (Life was black and white and oh, so simple at 16.) Since then I have read the book every few years and it fascinates me how much Scarlet changes over the years. Huh? Not one word of the book is different; Scarlet is exactly the same as originally written, but my perception of her shifts with each reading. What a book offers at age 16 is not the same as what the same book offers at age 30. Not to advocate keeping a book that you might enjoy twenty years from now, but if you enjoyed it at 16, at 26, at 36…at 46…then it’s a safe bet it’s a keeper. I look forward to meeting Scarlet again just to see how much she’s changed since the last time I saw her.
Another reason I keep books is because they make my apartment/house/space feel like home. For me, nothing makes a space feel warmer or homier than books, especially well-worn volumes that are old friends. My books are the first things that get packed (with a stack set aside to tide me over during the move) and one of the first things to get unpacked after the move. It isn’t home until the books are on the shelves.
Books in the home also make a personal statement of what I like and what I’m interested in. And while they don’t prove I’m an intellectual or a literary giant, at least it shows that there’s a good chance I’m literate.
Books are only inanimate objects until you open the covers; then they come wonderfully alive with people and places, travel, adventure, romance, comedy, tragedy, despair, hope, color, sound, taste… There is no experience that cannot be found between the covers of a book.
I have a re-occurring fantasy that after the lights are out and the house is quiet and everyone sleeps, the characters in my books tiptoe, sneak, skulk, sidle, slither, scramble, clamber, or slide from the pages for a grand and glorious after-hours party. I imagine Huckleberry Finn waltzing with Elizabeth Bennett while Hercule Poirot does the Charleston and Ebenezer Scrooge bogeys down to hip-hop. Marie Antoinette plays chess with Jean Harlow, Abe Lincoln dribbles a basketball, and Richard the Lion-Heart swings a baseball bat.Edward Cullen shares a pint with Dracula while Frankenstein plays whist with James Bond. Sherlock Holmes discusses philosophy with Stephanie Plum, Michael Valentine Smith sips tea with Katniss Everdean, and Shere Khan gives Heidi a ride on his back while Mowgli and the Artful Dodger visit Tara for an afternoon barbecue. These fantastical imaginings are as endless as the characters and stories they come from.
It’s hard to get bored and difficult to feel lonely when adventure and companionship are so near to hand.
There are days when reality sucks! And escape is only a page away.
Now, ask me again why I keep books.