Like almost everyone I know, I have a lot of books. A few fewer since the minor flood in the garage took out a couple of boxes that were stored in anticipation of getting new bookshelves, but generally a lot. For pretty much my entire life, from before I could read, I have believed, somewhere deep in my heart of hearts, that books are a form of wealth. It’s only lately that I realized they were also a form of… insulation? protection? I feel safe when there are books. The more books, the safer. (I have no idea what I need protection from. Boredom? A lack of reading material?)
So yeah. I like having books around. But I have also reached a point in my life where I realize that I have a lot of stuff. Emphatically including books. I don’t seem to be able to keep from accreting them, but I’m being a little more deliberate about which books I keep. I am still giving house space to all the plays I read and studied in college. And my Chaucer textbook (because sometimes I want to re-read the Wife of Baths Tale or something). All the paperback Georgette Heyers I ever bought, and so many many of the paperback science fiction and fantasy books I bought from the spinner racks at the drugstore in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where I spent my high school years.
Lately, with a sense of bemused sadness, I look at the stacks of books and realize that I’m never going to want to read some of them again. It’s hard to contemplate getting rid of some of them because they were such one-hit wonders, books I don’t think will ever have a digital edition. If I get rid of those books, who will ever know of them? On the other hand are the books I have replaced more than once due to loss or wear and tear–finally I got e-copies. You never know when the need to re-read Murder Must Advertise or the Jane Austen canon might overwhelm.
These days I read a lot on my phone. It’s less to carry, and I never run out of things to read. I also read paper books, of course. Especially before I go to sleep, when I’m trying to get the blue light of the day’s screens out of my brain. Truth be told, I still prefer paper. But paper is heavy, and if I need to carry more than one book (because I’m nearing the end of one and God forbid I should find myself book-less) it’s less to schlep. The luxury of getting on to a plane and knowing that–barring battery problems–I need not be stuck at 30,000 feet with nothing to read, is significant. And if-and-when we downsize from our current house to something a little smaller, I’m going to have to get rid of a good number of my books.
So these days, as I walk around the house, I find myself picking out some books–you. And you. And you. And adding them to the “donate” list in my head. The public library, or the Little Free Libraries of my neighborhood, will get a modest donation. A series of modest donations over the next few years. Because, as safe as it may make me feel, I cannot be Madeleine’s Home for Forgotten Books forever. Better that they find new homes with people who have not read them and may find them a source of delight. And I will learn to live without that particular layer of insulation.