On Sunday I reached a milestone in my reading life. I finished The Cuckoo’s Calling and moved to add it to my steadily-growing pile of books under the sloping arm of the sofa, only to find it didn’t fit. I’ve had to move the pile to accommodate it, and it now sits behind the sofa, which isn’t nearly as neat:
Why, a sensible person might ask, are my books piled against the sofa, like so much clutter, rather than neatly slotted on a shelf? The answer, of course, is that there is no room, my bookshelves being overstuffed already.
Clearly, I have a problem, and it’s one that’s rather foreign to me. I’ve always been a big library-user, and my parents have capacious, floor-to-ceiling bookcases so the books I did own growing up had plenty of space. I used to alphabetize my books; now I shove them wherever they fit with the kind of organisation that is mysterious to anyone but its own creator.
There are, of course, books I can dispose of: books like Robinson Crusoe that I bought for university and never liked in the first place; books like Twilight that I bought when I was younger and more foolish and now can’t see myself ever reading again; and books like Bleak House that I purchased years ago with the intent of reading “some day” and later acquired as part of a large public domain package on my e-reader, where I’m more likely to read them anyway as it’s less likely to cause injury to my wrist.
And I know, of course, that if I give away these books they have the opportunity to bring delight to others, rather than sitting stagnant on my shelves. If I donate them to a charity shop then their sale not only aids the buyer, but brings money in for important research and charity work.
And yet, it feels wrong, somehow, to get rid of my books, like abandoning old friends (or, in the case of some, frenemies). What if I want to re-read one of them? The obvious answer is to a) gborrow it from the library, b) download it if it’s a public domain book, or c) buy it again. I actually did C recently with a book that I did not give away, but which my parents may have done inadvertently as I searched all their bookshelves with a fine-tooth comb and couldn’t find it. The library, too, seem to have misplaced their copy, and I’ve been meaning to re-read it for several years now, so I finally bit the bullet and bought another copy. The book in question is Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason, which was one of my favourite books as a child. It’s now sitting in my to-read pile, which is, at least, much smaller than the one pictured above.
Perhaps, in the end, I’m simply too lazy to go through all my books and decide whether to retain or reject them. The obvious solution to that problem, of course, is to start small. Get rid of the ones I know I’ll never read, and prune in stages. It may even be advantageous in more ways than one, because there’s every likelihood that I’ll unearth some unknown story hidden away under other books.