“It’s not hoarding if it’s books.” This is a popular saying among bibliophiles with various versions like the above circulating as memes on social media. I’m not so sure if that’s always true. From comments I read, there are a number of us who are book hoarders. Notice that I include myself here. You know you are a book hoarder if:
- You cannot leave a bookstore without a book, or ten, even if you have stacks at home to read.
- You would have live at least fifty years longer than most mortals live (and retain your sight) to read all your books.
- You almost feel a part of yourself is being amputated when you get rid of a book even if you know you will not read, or read again the book in question.
- You have books everywhere, not just on your shelves–in stacks on the floor, on tables, on furniture, in every room, perhaps in closets.
Of course if this habit is compromising your safety by blocking exit doors, or your marriage, or your finances, or your children’s welfare, then it is a serious business and you really do need to get help. What once may have been a healthy love of books is no longer.
For most of us it is not nearly so bad. There are so many good things about reading. It cultivates emotional sensitivity and compassion. At its best, it holds forth virtues to which we aspire. It entertains. It enlarges our vision of the world. It helps form and guide our spiritual journeys. And sometimes, with a hot beverage and a well-made chair, it is one of the most comfortable moments of many of our days.
But why do we buy and keep more books than we can read? Here are a few musings that may reveal some of my own inner monologue in the bookstore:
- Every book that is at least of remote interest symbolizes the delight we’ve found in many of the books we’ve read.
- FOMO. We read a review of a book, or hear a friend rave about it and don’t want to be left out of those who have had the delightful experience of reading this book. Even when we have ten such books waiting to be read and are in the middle of one.
- Enlightenment. What a baffling, puzzling world it is we live in. Books often have illuminated little corners of it, and made it a bit less puzzling. Maybe the book in my hand will do that as well.
- Books offer a sense of safety and security. Sometimes it feels good to look at that shelf or that stack and think, “I don’t have to worry about running out of things to read” (even though there is a library down the street that dwarfs even my accumulation of books.
- Sometimes it is the delight of the bargain. There is something about snagging a $50 book for $2, even if you know you won’t soon read it. You can’t let such a good thing go by. There is no “catch and release” when it comes to book bargains.
I could go on. We bibliophiles equally have a hoard of rationalizations! My point is not to heap a guilt trip on anyone. Perhaps it is more personal confession. But I would observe that we humans are collectors. It could be clothes, coins, stamps, dolls, cigar bands, beer cans, you name it! For Jay Leno, it is cars–he has a huge storage building full of them, a “garage” bigger than my house. Probably the one thing book hoarders need to remember is that someone is going to have to get rid of that hoard!
The fact that I have books in my house that are older than I am ought to warn me that apart from fire or mold, books are very durable objects, more durable than I. Since many of them will likely outlive me, perhaps the most loving thing I can do is not keep them, because there is a good chance they might end up in a dumpster if I try to. And while we can get carried away and inordinately love things, a book that represents both work and hours of enjoyment may deserve a good home. Perhaps one way we express love for both books and people is to pass them along to those who will love them while we are still able.