When I was about 10 I was cast as Alice in Alice in Bookland, a school play designed with a maximum number of characters with a minimum number of lines. (No one looks forward to the school play unless their child has a speaking part. Bums in seats, people!)
I kicked off the first scene by sighing heavily, throwing a frown at a stack of books set on the table in front of me and proclaiming loudly, “Books, books, books! All there is to do is read books!” This was followed by a big yawn. I put my head down on the desk and promptly pretended to fall asleep. This early childhood conditioning explains why I can’t read in bed for more than fifteen minutes without nodding off.
The rest of the play was a parade of well-known characters dancing their way through my dreams. All except for Charlie, of course. He wasn’t the most graceful guy in the class and whoever thought he’d do well in a Mickey Mouse costume with Mickey Mouse shoes just wasn’t thinking.
In spite of my opening line, I loved books before, during and forever after that play. When I go to my happy place it’s just as often a vision of a cozy room with a fireplace, a comfy chair and floor to ceiling bookshelves as it is the requisite tropical beach scene. In my house-before-the-last I actually had a long wall of bookshelves surrounding a fireplace. It was one of the few spots in the house I ever considered “done” and I took great joy in displaying all those books, even the ones I had never read or would never read again. I thought that wall said a lot. Look at me! I read Important Books by Important Authors, I have first editions and signed copies. Yes, I am intellectual and interesting and you should think well of me!
In my next house I had a smaller bookshelf but among the books I loved and re-read there were books I kept because I liked what I thought they said about me. Yes, I read Tolstoy! Yes, I read Dante! Yes, I read …. okay, well, I have their books. I’ll get around to reading them …. eventually.
In this house there is no such bookcase. Somehow it just hasn’t been as important to me to show off what I read (or even what I plan to read …. eventually). When I realized that in all those years of owning Important Books by Important Authors, no one had ever commented on it. No one had ever perused my bookshelves and then given me an approving look for my obvious intellect and literary good taste.
When we packed up our last house before moving into our current home I dropped off three boxes of books at my local second hand bookstore and another two at the library. I felt lighter. (Actually, I felt a little sore because those boxes were heavy.) I have a store credit at the bookstore and I feel good knowing that sale of the books at the library helped them buy new ones that I might want to check out some day.
I don’t keep many books anymore but I still have two or three boxes of books in the basement to go through. Each one that stays will have to really tug at my heart strings to warrant a place on my minimalist bookshelves. I don’t need physical evidence of my literary snobbery or my wide range of eclectic interests and I don’t need to look for outside approval as much as I used to.
My books, just like my car or my clothes or my kids, aren’t reflections of me. I may enjoy them (books), have fun with them (clothes) or adore them (my kids). But you probably won’t think differently of me if you know that I once read War and Peace, have every book in the Outlander series or used to collect signed political memoirs.
In a few years, when we are living in on the road or in a much smaller house, there will be no room for literary hangers-on. The books that will earn precious space on my minimalist bookshelves will be important to me not because I want you to know I read them but because they are useful, are on my current reading list or have meaning to me and are irreplaceable.
The rest I’ll find at the library, shelved somewhere in the same building as Alice in Wonderland.
What about you? Why do you keep the books you do? Do you keep books that you will only read once or have never read at all? Would shrinking the size of your book collection lighten your load?
Photo Credit: Ned James via Compfight cc