Last September, I made my official move out of my mother’s house. My dad got behind the wheel of the U-Haul and carted my stuff — furniture, pots & pans, clothing, knickknacks, and tubs and tubs of books — over 300 miles north. For the first time ever, I had all of my belongings in one place — inside that giant U-Haul — and it was a little overwhelming. How did I, this one person, come to acquire so many things?
When I unpacked back in September, I counted all of my books: the total came to over five hundred.
Here I feel I must insert a caveat. I grew up in a very small rural Midwest town (population 1,000). Although the library there held many good memories and smelled delightfully of old books, it did not have the largest collection of books in which I was interested, especially as I got older. So, I began asking for Barnes & Noble gift cards for Christmases, birthdays, etc., and gradually I built up my own personal library. (I also frequented library sales, used bookstores, and the collection of old paperback classics in my uncle’s basement.)
Now, I know as well as anyone that there can never be enough books in any one place. A stack can never be too high. I have books gathered up and down the walls of my hallway, lined up in empty beer box shelves and scattered about each room of my apartment.
But my lease is going to be up in about three months, and since I am nothing if not reasonable (and a tad bit lazy), I’ve been attempting to scale down a bit by selling some books at a local used bookstore. I have, so far, sold approximately fifty of them.
I periodically go through my collection and decide which books I can part with with the least amount of heartache. Some books I toss into the to-sell box with ease. With others, I sit down and crack them open, read a few pages, and usually put them back on the shelf. Many I won’t even consider selling.
Sometimes the books that fall into these three categories surprise me. For example, I easily sold several brand-new, in-perfect-condition books simply because I didn’t much like them and can’t imagine reading them again, no matter how pretty and colorful they may look on my shelf. (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk come to mind.) Sometimes I ran across cheap, $4.95 Barnes & Noble classics that were hard to part with (I kept Jane Eyre and sold Wuthering Heights), not because I love the story so much as I love the memories I have of reading the story.
Most of the books I kept are the ones I’ve had the longest. I’ve gotten rid of none of my old favorite Young Adult books (Keeping You a Secret and Luna by Julie Anne Peters; my abridged and illustrated version of Oliver Twist; A Series of Unfortunate Events; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Little House on the Prairie books). I’m attached to them; they’re my childhood and my adolescence — how could I give them away?
I also kept all of the books given to me as gifts, even if I don’t particularly like the book itself. Any book that has a memory attached to it is kept. My favorites are kept. Ones I might read again. Ones I haven’t yet read but want to.
Books are like little moments in time. The best moments, the most memorable (whether good or bad), stick with you. And I’m beginning to think that the best books stick with you even when the book itself is gone.
I’ve realized two things over the past year: that your local public library is a great resource, and that your personal library is best when each individual book within it is valued. I think it’s time I collected books based solely on what they mean to me, not how they look on my bookshelf.