I have never felt like having a lot of books was any kind of clutter as long as they were all tidy. Nor was it any kind of burden even when moving house. But lately as I have been searching for ways to simplify my life and minimize my possessions, my eyes keep going to my bookshelves.
Over the last two years I have been borrowing more and more books from the library and buying fewer and fewer to put on my shelves. I have not felt the urge to own any but a few particularly enticing ones. Sure, there is the occasional book by a favorite author but these tend to not be many either. Actual book buying binges where I leave the store with a huge pile of books don’t happen anymore. These days I leave with two or three, sometimes even none.
When I first began noticing the change I worried something was wrong with me. Am I depressed? Unwell? Survey after survey said all systems go. I had plenty of books I already owned that I had not yet read and the library books never seemed to stop arriving so it’s not like I had nothing to read. In fact it seemed like I had been reading more than ever before. I just didn’t feel like I had to own all those books. Gradually I got used to the idea of library first, bookstore second. Lately this new habit has gotten so strong that even when I have a gift card it is hard to find something to spend it on. I think, Oh I know I’ll get XYZ. But then I stop and check the library catalog and generally end up saying, nah I’ll get that one from the library instead when I am ready to actually read it. And the gift card sits for weeks before I figure out what to buy with it.
The strange thing is that it has begun affecting Bookman too. I never said a word to him but his book buying habits have changed as drastically as mine have.
Then about the middle of February I decided I would take a Friday off in March and do some spring cleaning. Part of that cleaning would be going through the bookshelves in my study room. Three years ago I planned on adding another shelf but events conspired against it and by the time I had the chance to actually do something about adding the shelf my book buying habits had begun to change and I didn’t need it any longer. Now the very full shelves said not that I needed another shelf but that I needed to get rid of a quantity of the books that were on the shelves I do have.
I had a tiny moment of panic. Then I had a few days of feeling a little unsettled. But as I got used to the idea, I started looking forward to that day off. When the day arrived it turned out to be a whole lot easier to make decisions about what books to keep and what books to get rid of. I actually felt good making piles of books to send out into the world to find new owners.
When all was said and done, My shelves were no longer crammed full and I even have a lot of empty shelf space. I filled to overflowing six fabric grocery bags. Bookman and I took them to sell at a secondhand shop yesterday. There were three bag’s worth of books they didn’t want for various reasons. Those we will now donate to the next library book sale.
I have to admit that Bookman and I did spend some time at the shop browsing and I did bring home a few books but compared to what I got rid of three new books for me and two for Bookman are not going to make a difference. What I brought home is:
- Barren Ground by Ellen Glasgow. A Virago Classic first published in 1925 and set in Virginia. Poverty, seduction, betrayal, a woman who struggles to find herself and take control of her life and destiny. Sounds pretty good, eh?
- The Giant O’Brien by Hilary Mantel. eighteenth century London, a parable of man versus science. You know, I had not gotten around to reading Mantel until her Cromwell books and I really like her. I think she may have become one of the authors whose books I definitely want to own.
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. He is another author whose books ask to be owned since they are all connected through characters and themes. The woman at the register gushed about how great the book is as I was paying for it. That’s a pretty good recommendation right there.
And no, I don’t feel suddenly compelled to buy books to fill the empty spaces on my shelves, otherwise I would have brought home more than what I did. We still have a library in the basement with books on the floor because there isn’t enough shelf space. It is a messy out of sight, out of mind thing. But I have plans to go through those books too. And Bookman has caught the bug as well. He speculates we could conceivably empty two or three bookcases. We have not set a date to start this process. I suspect it won’t happen until summer when it is hot outside and being in the cool basement will feel good. But I am confident that it will happen and I am looking forward to it.