Too Many Books?
In my parents house, again, there are floor to ceiling bookshelves of books, two or sometimes three books thick. There are books behind books, and books on top of books, books in cupboards, books under tables and books in piles by the bed.
I have, quite literally grown up surrounded by the written word, by Jane Austen and James Herriot and Isaac Asimov and Agatha Christie. By the Classics and by Danielle Steele, by books that my Great-Granny passed down and by books picked up for £1 in service stations and now, I have boxes of books in my friends loft. I have filled all available bookshelves in the house I now share with my boyfriend. There are books upon books under our spare bed, and piles in front of the bedside cabinet that you have to move to open the drawers. There are books in the back of my car and books in the drawers of my desk at work and for the first time in my entire life as my boyfriend tears out his hair and half seriously threatens to leave if another book finds it’s way from the shop to our house, I find myself asking: is there such a thing as too many books.
I think the problem is that I buy faster than I read – which is saying something as I read quite fast – and I buy outside of my means. In a spacial sense rather than a monetary. I buy books that I have no space to store and once I have bought them I am incapable of parting with them. It doesn’t bother me. I’d happily keep on buying, I’d use them as a table, I’d use them as a bed. I would happily live in a house that overflowed with books. I don’t care but when I live with a none-reader, in a small house, when all available shelving and some space that’s actually not quite available is taken up with books then I have to consider a compromise. Like Ian says to me, time after time after time: there has to be a limit. This is a habit that we cannot keep feeding.
So, do I accept that right now I have just the right amount of books, and that any more would be too many and resign myself to a life where there is no bookshop browsing, no picking up brand new books, no stroking their spines lovingly and breathing in their smell and slotting them carefully into their place (alphabetically by author surname) on my already full to bursting bookshelf; a life where there are no second hand bookshops, no hours spend rooting through piles and shelves and boxes, no flipping of the tummy on the discovery of a beautiful edition of a book that I love, that I can’t just leave behind.
Do I resign myself to a life where I don’t buy any more books?
I don’t think I can.
Or, do I accept that in order to keep feeding my habit, I have to first get rid of something. I have to first get rid of some books. That probably makes the most sense. After all, I probably don’t need all the books I have. Some of them I’ll probably never read again. But where does one begin to get rid of pieces of one’s soul?
Do I start with the duplicates? Do I get rid of the first edition BFG, or the copy that comes in a set with Roald Dahl’s other works, thus rendering that set incomplete? Do I get rid of the green penguin paperback version of Little Women that I read every Christmas, or the blue hard-backed copy that my Mum gave to me with it’s pretty illustrations? I have 7 different editions of the Alice books, and I love each of them for different reasons. How do I decide which one to keep? I have to keep them all, it’s the only option.
Or maybe it’s the books from my childhood that should be re-homed. The LM Montgomery and the E Nesbit and the Enid Blyton. The Melvin Burgess and the Beatrix Potter and the Arthur Ransome. Maybe I should wave goodbye to Ballet Shoes and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and The Peppermint Pig. I doubt I’d ever read them again now – I’m almost 28 after all – but how can I part with them when every single word represents who I am today. My entire life is tied up in those sometimes dog-eared, sometimes yellowing, always loved pages. Getting rid of them would be like getting rid of my memories and the very thought is enough to make my chest feel tight. There are already books that have gotten lost in the passing of time, and to think about them fills me with sadness. I long for my copy of ‘Nobody Knows I Have Delicate Toes’ which I can probably still recite verbatim and I clapped my hands in delight just a fortnight ago when I found my old set of James Herriot books, bought for 25p each at a charity shop 15 years ago, in my parents attic. No, I can’t get rid of my childhood books, besides, I’d like to read them to my children one day.
Surely, then, the obvious choice would be the books I hated. ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjama’s.’ I could get rid of that, and books like it. Books that I would give minus points to if I could, books that I am embarrassed to own. Clearly though, not that embarrassed though because there they still sit. Books like the Twilight Saga that I know I won’t read again because they were bad, but that I’m glad I read for the social aspect. The thing is, that in order to appreciate the good you have to make space for the bad. Bad experiences shape a person as much as wonderful ones, and how do you know what wonderful is if you shy away from the awful? It would be superficial of me wouldn’t it, to only surround myself with the beautiful?
& I want pretty books. I want those gorgeous hardbacked editions of the Classics even though I have dog-eared copies of them all. I want that musty old edition of ‘Five Go Off In A Caravan’ from the second-hand bookshop and I want the pretty Waterstones Exclusives of Mark Haddon and Haruki Murakami. & 7 editions of Alice is never going to be enough. I want every book written by every author that I love.
You know why?
Because there’s no such thing as too many books.