“If it’s books, it’s not hoarding”
I saw that on a T-shirt so it must be true. But it’s not easy to put limits on the number of books to have in the house, though limits there must be. I have a semi-ridiculous number of books that I think I will somehow have time enough to read in this life, but they stay quietly out of sight in various nooks and corners. But once a book has been read…to keep or not to keep? That is the question.
I’m not a book collector. My husband is. He has specific limited topics of interest and rarely retains any title that doesn’t enrich the extensive collections he has built. I used to say that I just accumulated books, but that’s a little harsh and not completely true. Now I might call myself a book keeper. I keep books, not too many, mostly fiction, ones that have particular meaning for me.
It’s not possible or rational to keep every book that I’ve enjoyed or admired. I do make good use of my public library and feel confident that many titles that I might have an urge to reread are readily available. I love Dickens but have no space for his collected works; I keep Bleak House and a charmingly illustrated The Pickwick Papers and let the rest hover out of reach but available. I give disproportionate space to works by lesser known authors or more obscure titles that would be difficult to recover if the whim should prompt it. It took me years to find a copy of The Greatest Slump Of All Time by David Carkeet and I’m not about to let go of it.
There are some books that are special for other reasons. I could readily find a copy of Moby Dick when I want to read it again but I love the Modern Library edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent. Again, not about to let go of it. I have a few comfort books, ones to read when I need a lift or a laugh, and a few with sentimental associations. The copy of Austen’s Emma is nice enough but unremarkable. But I treasure it as the gift from my future husband when we were on our first date. He took me to a used bookstore – some things are just meant to be!
So, those are reasons to keep a book, but we still have to deal with the question of limits. Years ago I decided to dedicate one bookcase to these special-to-me books, six shelves and no more. There’s some movement on and off, new discoveries sometimes nudge an older one from its place. Sometimes I have double-shelved a little or laid a book across the tops of others, honoring the letter of the law if not the spirit. But it’s worked well for me. It makes me happy to have special favorites where I can see them every day.
Now I feel the urge to revisit these books, for pleasure and for curiosity. Some I’ve only ever read once and I’d like to know if I will respond in the same way. Others I would just like to spend time with again, like The Lord Of The Rings. It was hard to justify rereading a book when my reading time was more limited. Retirement has given me this great opportunity to read more, like I haven’t since those golden childhood summer vacations.
The “Bookcase Project” is my plan to read my way through this assortment of books, with no timetable, in no particular order. It will be fun and interesting to see which ones maintain a place on the shelf.