Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reader's Dilemma

I am deeply ambivalent about getting rid of books. In a recent post, Nick cited a survey that showed the average British household owned 138 books. I couldn't find a similar statistic for American households, but did find a study showing a very strong correlation between number of books in a household and the children's subsequent level of education. I grew up in a house with loaded books shelves, sometimes two-deep for smaller fiction books. We had the row of Encyclopedia Britannica for reference along with atlases, dictionaries and thesauruses. And yes, that's plural because once a book entered the house, it never left. I was always a voracious reader. For every book we read in my fifth grade class, we got a construction paper train car added to the engine with our name on it up on the classroom wall. Most people had several boxcars following their engine. My train chugged all the way around the room, circling back on itself. I once nearly caught the house on fire reading after I was supposed to be asleep. I had draped my bathrobe and a folded towel over the groovy plastic mushroom lamp in my '70's bedroom, and it went up in flames, burning through the fabric and melting the lamp. After that, I'd lie on the floor, reading by the bit of hallway light that came in through the crack under the door. Even in high school, I would read as I walked down the hall, and I often had a book hidden under my desk to read during class. All this to say, I love books.
And yet... clutter. I do hate clutter. With the advent of easily accessible information on the web, owning books doesn't mean to me what it used to. I have a dictionary/thesaurus right on the desktop of my computer. I have Google Earth to serve as an atlas. My kids sure don't go to an encyclopedia for reference, they log  on. I have discovered that not only can I carry as many books as I want to in the tiny space of an iPad, I can also enlarge the font and not fool with reading glasses. Win-win. I know the purists are writhing and shouting, "It's not the same!" Well, of course it isn't. Typing on a computer isn't the same as putting pen to paper, but we bloggers all do it. And there are times where I enjoy curling up with an actual book, rummaging through the sale rack at a bookstore or finding something new at the library.   just don't know that I need to keep a million books around. So they've been heading out the door by the box-load, bound for the local library's book sale. My most recent culling is the set up top, waiting to be boxed.
In the interests of full disclosure, I do have 50 or 60 books at work, all related to my job. Books on psychotherapy and psychological theory and books on issues that come up in the context of therapy, like mindfulness, relationships, sexuality, finances, substance abuse, grief and health. I imagine that when I retire, most of those will be sent packing.
Over the last month, I have ousted literally hundreds of books. And that was after an equally big purge a couple of years ago. I counted and was stoked to find that I was down to 99 books at home. Some I hold on to for sentimental reasons - books from my adolescence that I actually do re-read on occasion and my favorite children's books, which bring back happy memories of cuddling the kids on my laps and reading them over and over again. There are also the sort of reference books that can't be easily replaced by the internet - books on gardening and local hikes, for instance. The rest are books I either haven't gotten to yet but definitely will and books I know I'll re-read. After some gloating about bringing the book total to under 100, I remembered that I'd already packed away half a dozen books on Buddhism. Well. It's a work in progress.

48 comments:

  1. Since I moved to my kindle, I rarely get anything other than graphic novels or art books in paper format. When I moved a couple of years ago, I got rid of 80% of my books and was down to only a few hundred (including most of my french books, since they're actually often more expensive in electronic format - go figure). I'm still trying to cull; as you say, it's a work in progress.

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    1. I find with each round, there are more books that seem nonessential to me. I am not a big re-reader of books, and that helps.

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  2. oy...you could have sent me a book...ha...i am a book hoarder...well organized though...on shelves...and the boxes are in a closet....i am a purist...i am having a hard time making the digital leap...but my grad school textbooks this semester are on the kindle....so i am trying...smiles.

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    1. Ah, I don't want to be the enabler! :-)

      I bet you'll find the kindle method grows on you.

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  3. cs, when I moved here, for the first time ever, I held in my hands every book I owned, considerable, since I kept every book since college, and I held on to only the ones I want to read again.

    Now I have a 'library' that will excite me for life!

    You deserve a lot of credit for your total approach to letting go and looking ahead

    Love
    kj

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    1. One of the things I plan to do is get a library card and have many new books temporarily. And also, actually read the books I did keep rather than letting them just be decorations.

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  4. Other than my medical library (donated them to the school library) the only books I've gotten that is not still on the 4 bookcases were not returned by 'friends'.

    My oldest once remarked in shock that a friends house had no books.

    I doubt I'll ever make the shift to kindle-like devices; I like the feel of a book too much to give it up.

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    1. I can't imagine having no books at all. I just don't need hundreds that I've already read or will never read.

      I like the feel of a book, too, but boy kindles are convenient.

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  5. I grew up much the same. I blame my bad eyesight now on my late night reading.

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    1. I'd always heard that, too, but both WebMD and the Harvard medical site say that's just a myth. The worst it will do is cause temporary drying of the eyes. I actually had perfect vision until I needed to get reading glasses at 45.

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    2. I went from perfect vision to a strong prescription in about three months - matching out exactly with my massive increase in reading, much of which was done late at night with only one week lamp handy.

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    3. I'm not disputing your experience, just saying what I've read about the causality of vision problems. Sometimes things are correlated but not causally linked.

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  6. It's so ironic you posted this today because one of my other blogging friends posted about his exact same thing today!

    She has both a Kindle and an iPad, so no longer purchases books or even magazines because she just downloads them. And she said the same thing....it saves so much space in her home.

    I have neither a Kindle or an iPad, so if I want to read a book, I go the library. But OMG....I wonder how long it's going to be before libraries closed down because everything can be gotten online, just like music and movies.

    X

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    1. I have not liked magazines on my iPad. I much prefer flipping through the glossy pages. And then it goes to my waiting room for about 6 months before being recycled.

      I hope libraries are around for ever - they still provide a much needed service. I have a couple of books from the library on my bedside table right now!

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  7. I just can't handle the clutter so I don't keep anything but a few reference books on some national parks, wine country, etc. Now that you mention it, I did store my kids' favorite childhood books, in the hopes of grand kids some day enjoying them.

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    1. That's jus it - the clutteriness of it all was getting to me. And as soon as I read some of the ones I've kept, they'll go, too!

      I kept 27 of my very favorite books from my kids and gave the rest to my ex because he wanted them. I love the idea of reading them to grandkids.

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  8. I'm in the same place. I loved having books around and never got rid of any of them. Then three years ago, I downsized from a 3-bedrm house to a one-room cottage. I saved only my very favorite that would fit into one bookcase and download everything onto my Nook now. No, it's not the same, but I'm actually buying more books and reading more than ever.

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    1. That's true for me, too - I read more now than I can download books. I'm more likely to read when I'm in a situation where I have a few minutes to wait if I have my iPad with me.

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  9. Lol. We are in a similar situation. We have over 1,000 books at home. I finally decided that if the book is dated like a science textbook from 50 years ago it has to go. I also got rid of the baby books my girls have outgrown and donated all of the sports books they will never be interested in. Books are our addiction.

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    1. It's so gratifying to pick up new books that I understand how they become addictive. But they tend to linger even when they aren't relevant. Like the books we had on raising gerbils - don't plan to keep small rodents any more!

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  10. Surely this is a site well worth seeing.

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    1. Well, thank you. I can't tell if this is a real blogger or a spambot, so I'm afraid to click on the link.

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    2. I got the same comment :-)

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  11. I don't read often but what I do read must be in book form (mainly hardcover) and I must keep it. I do however understand the need for avid readers to have a kindle or something like it for their reading. My collection is large but not overwhelming at all. I did not grow up with parents who read books. I agree that the need to have encyclopedias, which we did have growing up, it not necessary anymore.

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    1. I always felt like I must keep all my books, too, but I've been challenging all the "musts" in my life. Turns out, they are all open to change.

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  12. You've done good to weed down the books like you have and I am sure the library is appreciating the donations for their sale. I love to read too, not quite as avid as you in almost burning down my house, LOL, but if I get a good book, I've been known to stay awake longer than I should just reading one more page, then another, you know the rest of that story :)

    We always had lots of books when the kids were younger to read, but as they grew older and I weeded them out we seem to be down with how many books, but probably because every time we move I would weed more. Since I rarely read a book twice, I've gotten now the habit of going to the library to check out the books. I think its neat we have so many options to read available these days, libraries, Kindles, etc.

    betty

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    1. The women at the library laugh now when I walk in with another box.

      Isn't it great to have those options available to us? I just love going to the library and also browsing the cheap book section on amazon.

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  13. Fellow book hoarder here though lately I discovered, because I live such a distance, my library will ship books to me. I keep waiting to embrace my e reader but haven't yet, though sit in awe as friend quotes passages to me from hers over dinner. But you know, my time is coming too. Once it took 2 huge trucks to remove all the books from my marital home. We had an actual library in our bedroom which was vast. I 've culled books more often than I've moved. And yet this house is crammed with them.
    Question: What are you going to do with the empty shelves?
    XO
    WWW

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    1. When I was growing up, the den was a library - wall to wall shelves on three sides. I've never had book shelves in my room though, because I like my bedroom to be as uncluttered as possible.

      I have three book shelves the size of the one on the photo from my office. I will keep my remaining books on them and also plants, a CD player, and so on.

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    2. And now that I think about it, one might go to one of my sons.

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  14. Not yet that ruthless. I did have a load of bookshelves built in so mostly I have space. I am getting rid of a load of review copies that still keep trickling in even though I no longer review books professionally. I am trying to keep the books I like to get out and browse in as well as those I like to re-read. And yes, the favourite childhood ones. And yes, the hard to find reference ones.....

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    1. And all those keepers seem reasonable to me. I am not an advocate of NO books, just not bazillions of books.

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  15. Good for you, so boldly embracing the advantages of reading without books. I'm still addicted to books, partly because I love the feel and look of them, and partly because our house is so big we have plenty of room for them. If we ever have to downsize, we'll have to think twice about owning books rather than e-readers.

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    1. The more I let go, the more I appreciate the space that opens up in the absence of things. It's kind of remarkable.

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  16. We have lots of books too but very rarely read an actual book these days because we each have a Kindle.

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    1. I still read a lot of actual nooks - I just don't feel a need to keep most of them.

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  17. I have the same dilemma you do!! I have tried making my piles of books look "artsy", but they just look dusty. :) Lately I've taken to trading books with my sister, this seems to be slowing the piles a bit!

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  18. We have a good library and as you mention the internet is full of info. I have gotten out of the habit of buying books. I'm not as big a reader as you. One very nice thing about library loans are those books that don't cut it. I don't mind returning a library book early but a purchased one that turns out less than worth finishing just sits there waiting for a decision.

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    1. I really enjoy getting books from the library. I read books I might not otherwise think to pick up/

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  19. I collect books until I run out of room, then I donate to the library. The last cull was back in 2012 before I moved, thankfully I tend to buy more Kindle books...but I still gave a pretty strong collection spread out through the apartment.

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  20. My culling should take place in the next couple of weeks when my Jeeves gets his annual vacation time. I do that every two years to keep the level at around a hundred. It has become easier now as I buy quite a few books on Kindle.

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    1. A hundred sounds about where I want to stay.

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  21. 138? we are well over that. we are doing renovations though and i had to pack all of them up so the wall most of them were on could be addressed. i was so proud of myself for getting rid of 5 large boxes of books....until i packed up what remained at it was 20 more boxes. sigh....

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  22. I still have several hundred tree books even though I've love my e-books. And I've purged several times, too. I like reference books and favorites in paper.

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    1. I do, too, but I've found I just use the same few reference books over and over.

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