For a while now books have pushed hard against the boundaries of the house, threatening to burst through the walls in search of more space. It’s not the first time I’ve been through this. Most of my life has been crowded with books, although for a brief period I enthusiastically ran in the other direction.

About ten years ago I was possessed with a newfound desire to adopt a minimalistic lifestyle and living space. I craved air and light. I required clean lines and plenty of room for movement. I wanted to promote positive energy. What I didn’t need was to be tethered by bulky possessions, possessions like books. As a result I purged a lot of books, an action I have since alternately applauded and lamented. During the Great Purge hundreds of volumes were thrown away. I didn’t even donate them. (In retrospect that is what I most regret.) Included were a truckload of hard covers and more paperbacks than I could count. Books I immensely enjoyed and one-off reads were jettisoned. I cast aside the old and the new. I was frightfully determined and in my determination I became ruthless. Steinbeck and Fitzgerald ended up in the trash. The classic 11 volume The Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant elicited no mercy. By the time the paper dust cleared about 90% of my collection was eliminated. Restraint and order were the fashion of the day.

Eventually I moved to a larger home. For a book junkie trying to reform his ways suddenly having more space to fill is about as red as a red flag can get. Several months after the move I stumbled upon a nice set of large bookcases on sale, solid wood suckers designed to last a lifetime. My furniture didn’t fill the house and I knew these would look fantastic. I envisioned populating the shelves with framed family photos, assorted decorative knick-knacks and a modest sampling of the best hard covers which survived the Great Purge. It would look refined and classy. And it did. Then while visiting the local public library to pick up new reading material I noticed a flier for an upcoming library book sale.

Alarms should have sounded in my head. A key to changing any behavior is to stay constantly aware of triggers which lead to that behavior and then avoid them. Remain vigilant. Once your level of focus wanes – and it can be for the briefest of moments – old habits will surely come crashing back. I had the fleeting thought it was probably foolish to browse this book sale, but my louder, reformed self argued otherwise. What’s the harm in looking? I was holding firm to the reins of the wagon; a few used books couldn’t shake me loose. Oh, the foolishness of misplaced pride! Looking back it’s like I was taunted by the old enticement of “The first one is free.” Although nothing was actually free, it’s remarkable how cheaply a few shopping bags can be filled with 50 cent paperbacks and one dollar hard covers. It’s doubly amazing how much stuff a few library book sales can yield.

I didn’t worry. Everything was under control. Until it wasn’t. Seemingly overnight it appeared as if every shelf was abruptly (and once again) overloaded with books of all stripes. It wasn’t a violent coup. Actually, it was impressively stealth and bloodless. Without a shout they simply multiplied in the dark passion of the night to restake their claim on my life. Now for every new book which passes through the front door the Army Corps of Engineers must be engaged to figure out a strategy which will allow it to be absorbed into the house without eliciting an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.

The lovely Ms. Trask suffers from the same malady as me, although she’s never had the moments of doubt and change which led to the Great Purge. She understands her addiction with a graceful acceptance. When we moved in together she brought years of reading material with her. While this contributed to the overload, it by no means was the reason for it. I had already fallen hard off the wagon. If anything she made me more accepting of my dependence. Still, I have moments when I dream of restraint and order.

I mention this because today I’m looking at some of the presents we received yesterday. Between us another dozen or so books entered the house. From Patti Smith’s Just Kids to a quality edition of Steinbeck’s East of Eden (welcome back) to Jed Rubenfeld’s The Death Instinct to the latest Stephanie Plum adventure, the house has bold new tenants and space must be secured for them. Although I can’t envision another Great Purge anytime in the near future I think I finally can appreciate the allure of a Kindle, even with my reservations about the cloud.

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Comments
  1. kayjai says:

    I have books stashed in various places in my house. I have only one bookshelf, and it keeps me from trying to fill it to exhaustion. The rest of my collection is placed in basement boxes, closet shelves and kids storage places. I can’t part with any of them…

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  2. bronxboy55 says:

    Kindle won’t give you more space, John; it’ll just help keep you from filling up anymore — you aren’t going to do another purge, I’m sure. What you’ve described so eloquently in this post is an illness that I recognize all too well. We get a bookcase, then we go out and buy books to fill it. But we buy too many, so we need another bookcase. And back and forth we go, an endless escalation that makes us feel smart and foolish at the same time. I have more books now than I could ever read. And yet, there’s that used book sale at the library coming up. Hardcovers for a dollar? What should I do — not go?

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  3. Quelle Horror! To purge a book would be heresy. However, loan them and you’ll never see them again – especially if they are ones you love and intend to reread.

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  4. whiteladyinthehood says:

    For the love of God man, don’t go Kindle…just kiddin’ – it’s probably a really cool thing…maybe….

    Your books are awesome and the photo is ‘drool’ worthy….

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  5. I love books, and my heart aches at the thought of getting rid of them. As the years go by, I think a good many of my books will have to come along for the ride. They’re my safe place after all.

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  6. sparklebumps says:

    Ok, I was greatly disturbed when I read “were thrown in the trash.” You are joking, right?
    I say it is funny, because every single book you mentioned, I own.
    Also, that is the most beautiful picture you ever took.

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  7. Doc says:

    When I had to purge my bookshelves recently for lack of space, I donated them to a senior center. It was still painful. And since we have no plans to move to larger quarters in the near futute, I was gifted with a Nook tablet. It’s difficult to get used to and I much prefer the warmth of a printed book. I’ve been using the Nook primarily to read email and blog posts whenever C hogs the laptop.

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  8. I could feed them to Wonderbutt if you like. I think he needs more fiber in his diet anyway.

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  9. joem18b says:

    My brother-in-law started a book company a while ago – one of those little companies that fills your Amazon book orders. No more worries for me about dropping dead and leaving all these books sitting here as a burden to my spouse. Now the brother-in-law can swoop down and clean the joint out.

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  10. H.E. ELLIS says:

    I love book swaps. I buy paperbacks and trade them with friends. If I like the book enough I buy it in hardcover and keep it on a shelf. Works out great for me.

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  11. It is so difficult to part with good books. They’re like dear friends. Yet occasionally I do purge my library though I always donate them to our local library’s book sale. I couldn’t possibly toss a book in the trash.

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