It seems I have always loved books, and in my lifetime have amassed quite a library. I find some sort of comfort in being surrounded by books, books on shelves, in piles on tables and floors.
In the past few years, though, I have had to thoroughly cull my shelves, for a variety of reasons.
Last year, I inherited about a thousand books from an uncle–he had promised me them ever since I was about nine years old–but after he died I simply couldn’t house them. I already owned more than that myself and his simply were not going to fit. The two of us had had similar tastes and many of the same titles, so the duplicates were easy to get rid of. Others I gave to friends, even to non-readers. And the majority I gave to two used book sellers.
In 2004 I had ghostwritten a history of Ireland and part of my contract was that the publisher paid for any books I purchased while doing my research–I bought a lot. So I was able to make more room by donating about seventy-five of these titles to the Irish Center in Philadelphia. They were hard to part with but I consoled myself in thinking that they are being read rather than simply sitting on my shelf. (I had ghostwritten a biography of Darwin as well but for some reason the publishers didn’t offer to pay for that research. I had far less books on Darwin than on Ireland.)
Now for any new reading, I turn more and more often to the public library, and I have begun buying some e-books, though only a handful. I make an exception and still buy poetry regularly (kidding myself by rationalizing that these usually take up less space), and I have bought some non-fiction titles that I knew that I wanted to own, and would go back to time and time again. But novels generally come from the library now. And that’s just as well.
We have all read the dire warnings about the demise of printed books. Such articles crop up almost weekly: The death of bookstores, the death of the author, the death of the novel (granted that one has been going around since long before the internet), etc. A friend of mine in Brooklyn passed along this article to me about how in France book sales are actually rising rather than being smother by digital devices. It makes for some interesting reading. Click on the picture below to read the piece:
So by the end, I went through an enormous amount of books and gave many, many away. (For 6 months I had to rent a storage shed to house my “inheritance” while I figured out what was going and what was not.) I didn’t like doing it, but I knew I had to.
And of course, that book that I hadn’t looked at in fifteen years, that had sat dusty on my shelves for so long. As soon as I gave it away, I needed it for something or other! Isn’t that how it always goes?