27 September 2012

My Library, My Kindle, My Library

Most people would say I have a lot of books, though I have seen larger personal libraries.  One living room wall--about 18 feet--is book-lined, and our guest room is also lined with bookshelves. About 3,000 volumes, last estimate.

The sight of these books almost always prompts visitors to ask whether we have read them all.  The answer is No, not all.  Probably a majority, but not all.

Many people are not sure how to take this.  Isn't the purpose of books to be read?  To have so many books that are unread--what does that mean?

Regardless of how much I read--there is always more I wish to have read.  I may have read War and Peace and Team of Rivals, but I still haven't read Freud's Totem and Taboo or Frank Sulloway's tome on birth order, Born to Rebel (a New York Times Notable Book in 1997). When a book sounds or looks interesting--if I can imagine myself enjoying it or learning something from it--I have generally bought it (especially if it was on sale or remaindered). Gazing at such books on my shelf is satisfying because I can see I still have plenty to read (not having anything to read is a big fear).  Gazing at  the books I have  read is also satisfying--there's a special feeling of connection to these.

A library of my own has been a goal since my 10th grade social studies teacher casually referred to his.  Mr. Marienhoff probably said something like, "I looked through my library upstairs and found..."  This appealed to me because bookshelves at home were overflowing, even at the age of 15.  It was hard for me to get rid of anything.  Books I had read became my friends--impossible to betray them by giving them away. Books I had not read were like promises I had yet to keep. I was already having trouble with public libraries.  I loved being in them, but returning books was difficult.I fantasized about a room completely filled with books that were all mine.  Multiple rooms, maybe. An infinity of books to read and refer to...at home.

My books have long been my pride and my burden. When I left school, my collection was large and my housing budget was small. My books spent months in storage while I sought living space for both me and my library at a reasonable price.  Finally I moved into a loft with three housemates and a giant wall--the deal was sealed when one of the housemates offered to build me a bookcase along that wall. 

I moved from that apartment into another with the man who is now my husband. Then, and every time we have moved since, we have had to include my library in our considerations: is there enough wall space for the books? We tried to make sure there was even more room for books than there had been in the last place, because--after all--there were more books now.There were always more.

In 2010, I bought my first Kindle. I was especially excited about using the Kindle on vacation--I'd been accustomed to carrying an extra bag for my holiday reading--but I started using the Kindle for reading at home also.  People ask if I don't miss books.  A strange question.  I am still reading books. 

But I no longer find myself purchasing books I wish to have read.  Instead, I download samples of those books.  This satisfies my persistent fear of running out of things to read while avoiding purchases of books I'll never get through (there are many such volumes on my physical shelves).

Over time, I expect the size of my physical library to decline (via periodic pruning) while my virtual library grows.  The growth, though, will almost entirely be in books I have read.

My relationship to physical books is starting to feel anachronistic.

1 comment:

Joshva P.P said...