Through one of my library newsletters I came across an interesting article yesterday, The People of the Book vs The People of the Kindle. It is not an article on the merits of digital versus print, instead it takes a different approach.
The article grew out of a friend of the author’s purging his print library because he only reads books on Kindle now. The friend had bought a new apartment and was getting ready to move. The decor of the new apartment was going to be minimalist and a large collection of books did not fit into this friend’s vision. The author understands the desire for minimalism but is still appalled at his friend being able to so easily divest himself of books. And he realizes his shock was because of how he saw the function of books:
How could a highly educated and cultured man, who’s been known to go to three Shakespeare plays in one week, get rid of his books? I had grown up assuming that book ownership was one of the signatures of an educated and cultivated person, a thoughtful person, a man or woman with concerns beyond getting and spending. When I go to someone’s home for the first time I still look at their bookcases as part of an assessment of their character. If there aren’t any bookcases, I wonder.
What used to be a sign of a person’s education and/or aspirations, the books on her bookshelf, is losing cultural relevance. The person with no bookshelves might be someone who owns a Kindle with 3,000 books on it. But whereas it is not rude to scan someone’s bookcases, it is rude to ask to see someone’s Kindle. Which I think is interesting because Kindle owners have the option of making what books they have, and any notes and highlights, available for all the world to see.
While I own a Kindle I have not done any book purging because of it. Let me take that back. I generally read public domain books on my Kindle, which means classics. Bookman and I have gone through our classics and gotten rid of a large chunk of them. Not all of them though. I have kept all my Jane Austen and Bookman has kept all his Dickens. We have kept new translations and classics we are particularly attached to or that weren’t readily available on Project Gutenberg at the time of our last weeding several years ago. But that is as far as our purging has gone.
Still, we have begun to feel a minimalist urge ourselves. We do not want to get rid of our books, though we have plans to do a “spring cleaning,” but buying for the sake of buying and owning has lost its appeal. We have become much more selective about what books we buy and have begun to use the library quite a bit more. Just because I might not want to own a book doesn’t mean I don’t want to read it. The books we tend to add to the shelves now are ones by favorite authors, are out of print, hold some special meaning, are impossible to get at the library, or might be reread or referred to again in the future. Perhaps our desire not to accumulate books willy-nilly is a result of age or an indication that we finally know what we really like to read. Whatever the reason, we still manage to buy plenty of books, still have well over 3,000 books in our house, still are never at a loss for something to read.
One doesn’t need a Kindle to scale down a personal library.