Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Libraries

I haven't been reading anything lately that really merits talking about so I decided to instead write something inspired by Amanda Nelson's confession on Book Riot.

She purged.

her home library that is.

I have lived in a number of countries now as a voracious reader. It's hard. You read books and you want to own them forever. I mean, forever. But then I know I have to move and airline baggage weight restrictions are getting stricter and stricter. I no longer purge per say, mainly because I don't accumulate books anymore. I have been here for just under three years but I have less than 4 months left in the UK and I've managed to only accumulate 45 books in 3 years. This still sounds like a lot to me but at least 16 of those I know I can drop in a heartbeat. They cost me maybe 50p and are general popular paperbacks. Along with some tough decisions I'm maybe down to 10 books. Those can fit in the box with my sewing machine and the dearest 3 are going to Greece with me. 

But I haven't always been this...minimalist. I am one of those book fetishists. I dream of a day when I'm settled in a house and I have walls of books I've read and enjoyed. I enjoy a lot of books, I'm sure I can fill a lot of walls. I grow sad when people tell me they hate reading. I grow even sadder when people tell me they're replacing their library with an ereader. I decided to not go to a magnet high school where I would've been a lot less bored primarily because they were so proud to have a bookless library. I took the tour through that library and saw nothing I liked. That I had the following conversation in my high school library:
Librarian: "Hmm...well...I'll let you take this book out. But, perhaps don't have it near you when you sleep."
Me: Huh? Why? Is it going to suck my blood?
Librarian: "No, not your blood. But the mold is not healthy for your lungs."
Me: .....
still doesn't make me regret my decision. And my years as a book mender in my university library hasn't dampened my appreciation of old books despite needing to renew my tetanus shot.

In the USA, I once moved house with 32 boxes of books.
32 boxes.
By the time it was time for me to move across the Atlantic, I probably had 35? boxes. It's hard to say, I had made a room in the attic into an overstuffed library. Considering I was planning on a very long-term move to Europe, this was unreasonable. Even the book fetishist in me considered that was overkill. I was pushed to a purge-a big one.

At first, it was cathartic. I mean, why was I keeping the Faulkner I hated reading the first time, hated more the second time, and probably even more the third reread. Pretension? Yeah, a little. Like a trophy kill? Yeah, a little. Now it would go away. Begone you irritant! Was I ever actually going to read that book? I barely got past the first 10 pages! How did this book get on my shelves?! Did someone buy it as a gif-oh yeah, it was a gift. A rather misguided gift.

Then, it got hard. It used to be my favorite book! But...I'm a little embarrassed by it? And have no wish/need/desire to reread it? But I was so fond of it! Oh god, oh god. And all those reference books. I'd need them for my MA. But, I couldn't bring them. But I might be able to use them again! But! But! Oh god, the agonies that certain old textbooks put me through. (2 of them later ended up coming to the UK when I really needed them.) I soldiered through it-the agonies of WHAT IF? What if I decided I liked that author? What if I needed a basic primer on African archaeology? What if a friend really wanted that book in the future?

 I left 12 boxes of books back in the USA. They include my favorite all time books, beautiful leather bound books, books that are difficult to find again, and books that are useful. I can confidently say that every book in those boxes are tied to very specific memories. 

I still go through them and on my every visit to the US, I pare them down just a little bit more. It's surprisingly slightly easier to get rid of some of those old loves with the distance and since I have a smaller pile of TBR choices, I'm actually reading them (and then usually donating them). I don't regret any of my purged books. 

I got rid of them responsibly. I checked through them and separated out the useful books in library compliant bindings. The local library system has a pretty serious theft problem so they were missing a lot of those Faulkners I hated so much. I warned them before I dumped my books. It was a courtesy. ~345 books is a lot to find on your doorstep during budget cuts that made catalogers redundant. I crowdsourced all my friends-were they interested in any of these? Luckily most of my friends love books so they took books off my hands. The ones with value got sold off. The ones with absolutely no value, out of date, etc got 'donated' to a local pulper. Textbooks went to Better World Books and most of the others went to various charities. It was absurdly harder to get rid of the books than it was to accumulate them but it was worth it. I miss none of the books I got rid of despite my purge being so drastic and dramatic.

How?

I use my libraries. In fact, librarians usually know my name. Even when I'm only someplace for a month, if there's a local library, you'll find me in it...and not only for the wifi. A lot of those classics I've meant to read are out of copyright and therefore available online courtesy of the Gutenberg Project or the Girlebook project. These are the main resources I draw upon so that I don't feel bad about letting that copy of a YA book go.
The other day I had the unbeatable urge to reread the Sabriel series. My much loved copies of the series (and short story collection) are back in the USA, loaned to a friend. Thanks to my library I reread them with no problem.

I live in a house that has never purged any books. No one in this house had a library card despite at least three members being voracious readers and another was an academic. There are children's adventure books from 1976 (1975 is in the next room) in a stack next to my bookcase-dated ideas enclosed in cheap bindings. In an adjacent stack is probably 1/10th of the entire series of Red Dwarf magazine/books that is spread throughout the room. A whole shelf of review books for standardized tests that no longer exist. There are whole rooms full of books no one has actually read, will not read, and will not read again. I feel like the building must be sinking under the weight of all these books. All these books are dusty, falling apart under the pressure of their neighbors. The stacks falling over and covers denting. They are whole worlds forced to sit still-simply taking up space-due to the indifference of their owners who simply cannot pay them attention because they don't know what they have.
Is that not sad?

I don't think you have to purge your library. I understand the urge to surround yourself with some of your best friends. I know the comfort of having your own book with your own dogears, notes, bookmarks in it rather than a copy you have to return. I just think everyone should take some time once in awhile and really think about what's on their shelves.

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