I threw out half my books and I’m okay

It’s trendy to talk about your hopelessly neurotic relationship with books. People love to share memes about how they just can’t stop buying more books even though they haven’t read the last books they have. It’s not my favorite schtick, but at least it’s better than the people who, to prove their love of books, share photos of the intricate diorama they made by cutting an actual book into little bits. They just love books soooooo much, that’s what they did to a book!

If that’s how you show love, remind me not to let you babysit.

Anyway, I could tell you a thing or two about what it looks like when book collecting gets truly neurotic. I grew up in that kind of house. My parents weren’t hoarders, but they accumulated books in a way that can’t be completely explained by their love of reading and their thirst for knowledge (which were considerable). My father once bought an entire dumpster full of books, which the seller delivered to our house at an excellent price. The only catch with these particular books was that they had been on fire, and most of them were blackened and crumbling, and wet and moldy. But books! For such a good price, that would otherwise get dumped! And it was such a deal . . . . and it would be such a waste to let books get thrown out.

That’s the thing that catches me up now: It would be such a waste to let them go. You can’t just let books go. Collecting books isn’t like collecting anything else, because they’re not just things. Books are especially important. They hold a special place in our minds and command a certain category of respect. You can’t just let them go!

Maybe you see where this is headed… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly


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4 thoughts on “I threw out half my books and I’m okay”

  1. Purging stuff is good for the soul! And getting rid of all the books improved the air quality in our home.

    I have a history of hoarding 3 things: Groceries, clothes, and books. All my hoarding comes from a place of fear – what if disaster strikes and we need this some day? I long ago got a handle on the clothes and I’m pretty sure the excessive amounts of peanut butter and toilet paper will be taken from my cold dead hands, but the books?

    Compared to the clothes and the food, the books were relatively easy for me. One day my sons’ school was doing a gently used book drive to give to families in North Philadelphia. I filled too many contractor bags with the books too gross to giveaway (why did I still have them in my house)? and then I went to BJ’s and bought a few dozen laundry baskets and out of the house the rest of the books went. I made a few exceptions for reference materials and well loved selections- what if the internet goes down and we need to know how to tie a tourniquet or make a fire out of sticks? or we’re under attack and power is out for weeks at a time and we need to read some comfort books? I’m ready for that. For everything else, there’s Kindle.

  2. I have to sneak discarded books out of the house when my husband isn’t looking. I love books and would keep them all forever, and I spent more money on books than clothes when I was single. Even when times were very tight, I’d always try to find a book for the kids when we would wander the mall. I can’t keep them all (the books, not the kids), and I make the tough decision about which series do the kids not care about, which ones can we get from the library, etc. My husband loves the idea having shelves stuffed with books though (makes us look smart! thoughtful! who wouldn’t be inspired to read more when you have acres of books?). My life is much easier since I gave up the idea that books must be preserved.
    Also the same feeling when giving up old toys – and furniture – and everything! After years of holding onto so much “just in case” I’m finally able to see the wisdom in giving away.

  3. I used to work in a law library where we sometimes had to throw out old case reporters to make room for new ones. The old cases were all online so we weren’t interfering with anyone’s research . But the lawyers could not stand the sight of all those wonderful books being stacked for the trash. So I used to the purge on weekends so they wouldn’t suffer.

    1. At the academic library I used to work for, when discarding books they’d strip or tear off any reference to the institution before tossing them. Otherwise there’d be a sensationalistic story on the 6 o’clock news about the university just throwing out perfectly good books, how dare they.

      I’m a librarian myself, I love paper books, I keep a whole bunch that I probably don’t NEED to, but even I see the wisdom of occasional purges.

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