Sunday, November 02, 2008


We finally bought bookshelves yesterday, after living for almost a month with all of our books in a big pile on the floor. It looked like an art installation; I thought of it as my life, there in a huge mound on the carpet.

Because I, like many readers, see my books as my life story. I saunter over to other people's bookshelves and stand there imagining where and when those books were chosen and read, and why they are still hanging around the house. I used to keep each and every book I'd ever purchased, whether I'd finished it or not, whether I'd loved it or hated it, even the textbook from my 8am Anthropology class freshman year. I liked the story they told, I liked it when people would strike up conversations after seeing certain books in my house, I liked loaning them out.

But soon the bookshelves started to take over our home, and when I married Jeff he brought about a half-box of books along with him and I felt a little self-conscious about my book hoarding habit. And then, for the first time I started and did not finish a very popular book that everyone raved about. In fact I hated it so much that I stopped halfway through and decided it need to be gone from my house. So I gave it to Goodwill. And that was the first step. I gave away my old textbooks and sold some other books I never liked anyway.

I still hold on to more books for longer than I need to (just ask Jeff how many I brought to Germany and back with me - he'll tell you, ALL OF THEM). But I've gotten rid of a bunch as we've moved around the world, so I've winnowed down my collection to the ones that matter to me, the ones I either loved or that I know I'd like to loan to friends.

Our new shelves don't hold all the books we own, so I had to choose which ones to stack there, and where to put them. And it took me almost all day to figure it out, to decide what face I would show to my visitors, and in what order. In the end, more of them fit that I'd anticipated, so there are a few out there that I'm not exactly sure I want in public (Robbie Williams's biography, anyone?), but then again, I'm still hanging on to them, so that must mean they're part of me.

What do you do with your books? And any guesses about the book I couldn't stand to keep in my house? (Hint: Oprah chose it too.)


G in Berlin said...

I keep far too many books, too, although when we packed to move to Germany I put 110 boxes in storage. I miss some of them, but I did bring active series with me. I have started to winnow through my books but that is more a function of going to BEA and getting books by the 100s of pounds, some of which I don't want to keep. Generally, if I liked it enough to buy it, I will keep it. Now, when we get back to the States, I will either have to build a shed for my books or move to a larger house, but that was true before we left as well, so I'll deal with it when the time comes. I get my book hoarding honestly, from my mother. Although I believe after 70+ years pf hoarding, she has started to weed a few out as well (although some go my way...).

daniela said...

Did you chuck "a million little pieces?"

The book I couldn't keep in my house was "I don't know how she does it." made me SUPER angry. (spoiler alert: how she "does it?" quits her job at the request of her husband.) sweet.

B. said...

For as long as I can remember I've made little notes in the sideline of my books. Sometimes just an underlined passage that really hit me, other times my interpretation of what I was reading. Then there are all the random phone numbers or 'buy carrots' or tons of 'brigit cusack's with little hearts to dot the i's that I scribbled the year Say Anything came out.

It's fun. Not only do my memories of the books serve as a sort of time capsule, but the notes do too. It also effectively guarantees my books are unsalable. And the thought of throwing away a book makes me go all Fahrenheit 451...

So, yeah, I've got a ton of books... too many books. WAY too many books if we have to pay to ship them back to the States (getting them here was easy... Jim's employer footed the bill). But I'm trying not to think about that part right now- can't imagine how I'd decide on what to leave behind.

Anyway, my vote for your much maligned book is Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook... but then again I'm probably just projecting.

Anonymous New York said...

It makes me SO SAD to read this. I couldn't take all of my books with me to law school, so I kept them in my parents house and they ended up in the basement and they were destroyed by moisture and mold. (I would have NEVER let that happen). So much of my history, of ME, was lost. I still have a lot of them, but it's not nearly the collection I would have now. Anthologies, books of poetry... it breaks my heart just thinking about it.

Tom said...

My wife has taken great interest in Africa, so our "viewable" bookshelves contain titles like "Machete Season" and "We Regret to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families" (paraphrasing that one).

Of course, the romance novels don't see the light of day. I'm surprised she hasn't covered them with grocery bags like we used to do with textbooks back in high school.

(In her defense, she's read and practically memorized every one of the books about Africa - it's not just for show. And the romance novels were a suggestion from her mother, because they were written by a distant cousin.)

She does still have the random textbook interspersed on the shelves, both from her Criminal Justice studies as well as her EMT days. So if I need to set a bone, I've got the guide at the ready.

My Clancy and King books are in a box in the closet, with the romances.

Oh - was the one you gave away the one that was a fraud?

Blythe said...

I've never read A Million Little Pieces (Daniela's guess - and I think that's the one Tom is talking about too), but I'm kind of interested in it. It doesn't really bother me that it wasn't all true. Most memoirs include at least a little embellishment/fictionalization, and he just crossed the line (and pissed off Oprah).

I have read The Notebook but fortunately it was a borrowed book, while I was staying with a friend. I'll bet it was a decent movie because the story was interesting, but wowza that was some melodramatic writing.

Anonymous, please accept my condolences on the loss of your books.

Tom, has your wife read Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight? Really interesting memoir by a white South African woman.

And I have a whole stack of Maeve Binchy books whose covers look like they're straight off the romance shelves in the grocery store. Sometimes, the brain just needs a break. (But not a break courtesy of Nicholas Sparks, thanks very much.)