Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On cleaning out my bookshelves

I never know what to do with books I own after I’ve read them. And I haven’t had great examples. My parents have bookshelves full of childhood favorites, old college textbooks, worn copies of books they swiped from their parents’ houses, books my uncle gave them when he moved to China, books I brought back from college, book people have gifted them, and boxes and boxes of books that no one has dared to go through. In addition to this, they each have a bookshelf on their side of the bed that are full of books. And an alarmingly large pile of books on the floor next to it.
I’m still at a transitional period in my life and I simply don’t have the space or the resources to store and lug around boxes and boxes of books. Sadly, I’m frequently in denial about this. I’ve tried in vain to combat this. In my most recent move, I donated several books that I’d been holding on to for years, but hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. It hurt - far more than I expected it to. Now I’ll never know if that was meant to be my new favorite book, I agonized inside, apparently forgetting about this cool thing called a library where you can check out any book you want. I justified my actions by telling myself that this meant I had my addiction under control - that I was in charge, not the books. However, recently, in a rare moment of clarity, I noticed that my nightstand/bookshelf was full - and that I had a growing pile of books on the floor next to it.  I knew I needed to find a better system (and a healthier attachment to the books I own). I needed to clear shelf space, but I also needed to make sure these books went to a loving and kind home for people who could use and appreciate them the way they deserved to be appreciated.
And that’s when I had a wonderful awful idea. I have all these books. And I have all these friends who like to read.
They obviously needed these books.
And so it began. I immediately started mailing books to my friends. Sometimes for good reasons (i.e. my friend who teaches American History will LOVE this book about the Revolutionary War). And sometimes for irrational ones (i.e. my old roommate also received several self-help books from work a few years ago and she dutifully read them, so maybe she’ll read the self-help book I got from work, too?) And sometimes for vengeful ones (i.e. Dad raised me to be like this and it’s time I punished him with more books. Muahahaha. Also, he loves Dostoevsky. And I have a collection of Tolstoy’s novellas I need to get rid of.)
It’s been fun to see people’s reactions to receiving free and unexpected books tailored to their tastes (somewhat). There has been a mixed bag of excitement, confusion, gratitude, and “Well, at least it was nice to get a gift, even if it was this.” I’ve even had someone say “I probably won’t read this. You should donate it to the library and get a break on your taxes.” And I expect more hilarious, wonderful responses from my dear reading companions. Mailing books I enjoyed to people I care about has been extremely rewarding on a personal level and has enabled me to strengthen connections with those around me. But the best part? The pile of books next to my bookshelf has stayed at a somewhat steady size for several weeks now. That’s what I call progress.

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