We Knew This Day Would Come…

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Library,” by Stewart Butterfield, licensed under CC BY 2.0

For years our friends and family have looked askance at those stuffed bookshelves and piles of books in various rooms of our abodes. People asked us why we were buying books when we already had plenty of books to read. People came up with a Japanese term to describe what we were doing–tsundoku, the piling up of unread reading materials. Some tried to invoke Marie Kondo on us to purge our books and only keep what gave us joy. One problem. Nearly all of them give us joy!

Somewhere, deep in our psyche, we knew this day would come. Bookstores and libraries would close. Even Amazon wasn’t a reliable source of books. We would have to rely on the books we have on hand. Forget the toilet paper! Would we have enough books on hand when the apocalypse came?

I’ve got that covered. Some time ago, I calculated that I probably won’t be able to read all the books in our home during my remaining life. It does mean I’ve begun to be more selective in buying new books, and occasionally, I realize that there is an unread book that at this point I’m no longer interested in reading.

I find many of my book-loving friends feel the same way. There is a bit of a sense of vindication, a bit of smugness as they look around at bored friends, and think to themselves, “all I need to do is pick up the next book on my “to read pile.” All along, we’ve lived with the dread that we would run out of books, perhaps a worse fate than running out of that Charmin. No worries, we have our hoard, carefully built up over the years.

Psychology Today article, published back in 2017 raises the question of what books we would want in our “Doomsday” library. English professor Gina Barrecca writes, “I want books and light enough to read them by; I want stories, and history, and poetry, and science and collections on art, music, architecture, religion.” She goes on to list the classic and contemporary authors and titles.

An interesting question is whether we have any books we want to re-read. If we did run out of unread books, would the books we have read and kept be ones we’d be eager to read again. Perhaps that question might also suggest the books that it is time to discard. If it isn’t a reference, and we’d never re-read it, why are we keeping it?

The best books are the ones that growth with us, that are new to us each time we read them because we are different than the last time we read them. It might be an interesting to look at our libraries to see how many of those books bring back fond memories of previous readings and beckon us to come visit again. Those books are a good investment, that keep paying us back reading after reading. When we have a library of those books, we truly are set, if not for the apocalypse, but at least for a long stay at home.

 

It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books

72592813_409115073084149_4895158919434862592_n“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.

TBR

One of my TBR piles

One of my TBR piles

That stands for “To Be Read.”  One of the things that defines a bibliophile are the stacks of physical and/or e-books waiting “To Be Read.” You know how it goes. You are browsing in the bookstore or a library sale or online and you find a great bargain on a book you’ve wanted to read or you thought sounded interesting in a review you read. You can’t read it immediately so it goes on the stack–or one of the stacks.

If you are a bibliophile, you have probably struggled with this. On the one hand, there is the anticipation of reading the books, which sometimes can be as good as the actual reading! Just to look at the spines, the blurbs on the back of the book or the table of content can whet your appetite (and remind you why you bought that book in the first place).

On the other hand, this can verge on, or cross over the boundary to hoarding, particularly if it seems the piles are taking over your house! The challenge becomes even greater if you start getting sent books to review. I realized recently that I probably don’t have enough life left to read all the unread books I have, either in stacks in my house or on my Kindle. That for me seems to define the line where collecting is at least straying into the territory of hoarding–hard as it is to admit!

There is one TBR pile I probably won’t get rid of. It is by the bed and is what I’d call my “staging area.” When I finish a book, this is where I go for the next book to read. I usually filter books from other piles here as the pile shrinks. Right now the pile has some Jeff Shaara novels, a three volume Teddy Roosevelt biography, and some more “theological” books by Os Guinness, Jurgen Moltmann and an autobiography of Therese of Liseaux.  (Previews of future reviews!)

It’s the other piles that need to go. Truthfully, they all make the house look more cluttered. Either I do something or my family will stage an intervention! My first goal would be to clear the one in my spare bedroom by the end of the year (either by moving books into the stack by the bed or getting rid of them).

That confronts a reality I need to deal with. If the books have been on a TBR pile more than a couple years, I need to ask whether I’m really going to read them. This summer, I was able to give away two good size boxes of such books. Yes, I grieved, but I also remember what C.S. Lewis said about our libraries in heaven being comprised of the books we gave away on earth.

There is also the question of where books go after I’ve read them. Once again, it is increasingly apparent that unless it is a book I may re-read or reference, it probably needs to go. I’ve made a rule that I need to weed out a couple books for anything I shelve.

Finally, I can’t shrink these piles if I add to them! Perhaps a goal at this point is to not acquire a new book without reading five others and getting rid of at least that many. That means at most that I can acquire 24 books a year or 2 a month.

Here’s a big goal: have only the TBR pile by the bed by the end of next year. Looking for a good deal on books or even some free ones? Look for a big book purge next summer. It’s time to bring those TBR stacks in line with reality!