Posts Tagged ‘too many books’

On feeling oppressed by books…

April 19, 2021

I glanced sideways at my bookshelves recently and caught a glimpse of a title and author, realised that, yes, I’d read and enjoyed that book perhaps ten or twenty years ago and now I didn’t have a clue what it was about, or any desire to read it again to remind myself. And this got me thinking about books that we read and go back to because they leave a permanent and lasting impression, and the books like that one, that sit there, not even reproachfully, until they are bundled off to a charity shop…Partly, I’m a hoarder and I’ve always loved having a large library, so I’m reluctant to dispose of books, although I have found it easier in the last few years.

I’ll buy a book (and normally read it straightaway) if it’s a really interesting recommendation from someone whose tastes I share, if I come across a good review, or if it crops up in my research on something I’m interested in at a specific moment. But then I move on.

I can’t apologise for constant references to getting older in my posts as it’s something I’m increasingly aware of at the moment, I’m sure heightened by all the necessary changes in my life and routines that COVID-19 has brought about. But I have found myself thinking about my library with the fact of ageing in the background.

I used to enjoy having a large library and being surrounded by books; now I’m finding this more than a little oppressive. When I was younger, I could look at all the books – I reached about 3000 at the peak library point – and think yes, someday I will want to get around to re-reading that/ those. This, obviously, is no longer the case, and I have weeded out many hundreds of books over the past few years that I know I have grown past, if you get my meaning, and that I will never want to read again, or waste eyeball time on, as I usually put it.

I still buy books, although far fewer than I used to, and buy them accepting that I’m only likely to read them once, now, because there’s so little time… there’s still the same great pleasure in buying and reading a new book, however. There is – fortunately – the money to have whatever takes my fancy. And having read a book I usually know pretty clearly whether there’s any point in keeping it, or whether the discipline of disposing of it already will be good for me.

And the library has been shrinking to encompass those particular favourites I know I will want to return to as long as I am able. Somewhere there is a list I have been drawing up of those books I absolutely must keep; there are many of the usual suspects on this list, as well as some surprises. One day, I’ll write about that vital list of books I am deliberately choosing to keep because I intend to re-read them and I (probably) have the time. I can already feel a certain sense of liberation in that.

Reading envy

April 15, 2020

I’m feeling a tad envious of some of my fellow-bloggers at the moment, who seem to have settled down to so much reading (and writing) during lockdown, as I’m actually finding it rather difficult to settle on what to read…

I seem to be moving into a different phase in my reading: I don’t feel driven any more to acquire lots of new and exciting books (good, pressure on bookshelves and house-space relieved a little!) that grab my eye. Although I still register interesting suggestions other people refer to or recommend, these tend to go on a list now, whereas in past years I ended up acquiring a large number of books, some of which I never got around to reading, others I read once and then passed on, and yet others I know I won’t read again but struggle to part with, for some reason.

So currently I feel more discriminating, and I have been moved to revisit quite a lot of old favourites, as my more recent posts show. However, there are so many old favourites that it’s often hard to choose one and settle down with it. Thus I’m in the strange (or daft) position of having lots of books I want to re-read, and lots of books bought during earlier enthusiasms, waiting to be read, and cannot decide where to start. Am I alone in this? Is this indecisiveness another aspect of the stress under which we are all currently living? First world problems again.

But I am taking stock, slowly, and I have amassed a considerable pile of books that will be leaving my estures once the lockdown is over. I am realising that there is so much out there, never encompassable in a single person’s lifetime, so I need to ease the pressure on myself and just go with what I fancy, or what interests me at the moment.

I’m quite pleased with the fact that this year I have so far only acquired five new books, two of which were birthday presents, and both of which I have read and enjoyed.

Oppressed by books

January 23, 2019

My study has needed re-painting for a while, and I finally tackled it last week; it took far longer than I expected, because of the books, and rather alarmingly, by the end of it, I felt quite oppressed by them. Although the study is quite roomy, it’s full of stuff, all of which had to be moved, along with the 1000 or so books on six different sets of shelves, before a particular section of the room could be painted. As I finally re-shelved the last of the books, I did a small cull, wishing I could do a bigger one. Am I ever going to read that again? I found myself thinking.

There’s always an – and yet – though.

There’s a particular physical comfort and sensual pleasure from being surrounded by books, most of which I’m quite attached to in some way or other. Many of them are physically nice objects, with quality paper, good quality binding, well looked-after… and that’s before I think about the contents. I love the Everyman’s Library series and have quite a lot of these: they are not OTT in the way I find the Folio Society collection, for example. And I also have quite a lot of cheap French paperbacks, which I like for their fine design – echoing Penguin in earlier days – and basic quality paper.

I like the various sections that line my study: almost a wall of travel writing which I’ve gradually collected over the last couple of decades, a wall of literature with its complete hardback Arden Shakespeare Second Series in individual volumes, shelves of history, atlases. I feel at home in this room, and it’s good to have so much within easy reach of my enormous desk.

And yet, I felt oppressed. Many of the books will go eventually, as I age, and re-read before reluctantly parting with them. But others need to go now. I piled up all the Polish albums of photos of cities, gifts from the socialist era when there was plenty of spare cheap printing capacity and the regime wanted to boast both of the nation’s past and the socialist construction: I probably looked through them a couple of times forty years ago and never since. I don’t have the time or the inclination to try and sell books online, so they will go to Amnesty. And there are many other lovely coffee-table type books that I cannot bear to part with at the moment.

I know that a disciplined approach would have me ruthlessly go through everything and select only the books I could definitely justify keeping (ha ha!). I recognise that my feelings are changing with age, and I do try and de-clutter, but I cannot understand the various lifestyle coaches who just say ‘get rid of it all, you can always buy it again if you need it’ and readers who claim to keep everything they need on their e-readers cannot really be serious, in my books. My books do increasingly remind me of my mortality: they can outlive me, and will not have the associations they have for me, for others…

Anyway, I now have a newly-painted study, in exactly the same colours as it was before but cleaner and fresher, and in another ten years I may well not care about re-decorating…

The cull…

July 16, 2016

Yet another clear-out of several boxes of books!

It seems to be getting easier. Reference books are being culled ruthlessly; many are seriously out-of-date and I’d have replaced them long ago in the paper days; now they can go as I know where to find the information I want online. There’s still some sentimental attachment to seeing a familiar tome on the shelves, but it’s waning.

I’ve realised, too, I can part with a lot of the travel guides I’ve accumulated over the years; maps I still keep, as I know better than to rely totally on satnav, and, although I find the maps app on my phone helpful, it’s not often it can give you a big enough and clear enough overview of an unfamiliar town or city to enable you to avoid mistakes or long-cuts… But I can do so much of the homework I need to do before I set off, and travel lighter.

I’m able to be rather more ruthless with novels, too. Anything pre-1923 is available to download and read, so I only keep my best copies of favourite novels; the rest, particularly if I’m unsure whether I’ll read them again, can go. I’ve become a lot clearer about what I like and don’t like as I’ve grown older, which means I can decide pretty definitely whether I’m ever going to allocate more eyeball-time to re-reading a certain book or not. If not, off you go!

There was a time when having a library meant having books, and having them on display, as a way, I suppose, of reminding myself and others, that I’d read a particular book. Now my library is much more a ‘these I have loved’ project, and is therefore shrinking. I’m aiming for the day – haven’t reached it yet! – when I will go through my entire collection and select, deliberately, only those I definitely intend to keep, and will abandon the rest…

What is still difficult is to avoid buying more books. I have cut the number down that I buy each year from about seventy or so to about half this, but that’s not good enough. I don’t have enormous wish-lists like I used to; I feel that I’ve probably read ‘enough’ about certain subjects and so don’t need to buy the latest new book; I can avoid local bookshops and second-hand shops and even charity shops, but it’s harder when I’m away and am lured into thinking, ‘well, there could be something really exciting in here..’. Or when I pass through France and have to look to see if there’s anything that I know I’ll never come across back home.

Without being morbid, I do admit to myself that I have a limited amount of time left, and that there’s a lot of pleasure to be found in old certainties, which means re-reading those books that I’ve known and loved before, the old favourites, in the sure knowledge that I’m not going to be disappointed.

Too many books?

April 14, 2014

Increasingly, I’m feeling I have too many books. Before you begin wondering about the state of my mental health, I’ll try and explain why. First, some facts. My spreadsheet tells me I have 2373 books in my library; the accession number is 3640, so over my lifetime I’ve disposed of about 1300 items… which was a bit of a shock, when I realised. These books take up a lot of room, several rooms, in fact. And they weigh a ton…literally.

Why keep a book?

Because I bought it, is the obvious answer.

Because I want to read it, one day…

Because I read it and enjoyed it, and want to read it again (perhaps) haha! But how to decide what to re-read, when there are so many unread books? If they weren’t there nagging me, would I bother?

Because I read it, enjoyed it, and will definitely re-read it… probably have, several times already. Think Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, Umberto Eco, Josef Skvorecky and others, in no particular order.

Why get rid of a book?

Because I have several copies of the same book. Increasingly, I buy something by mistake, that I already have. But also, over the years, I have accumulated different editions of books I particularly like: nice copies of Jane Austen for my library, a much more portable edition to take away for holiday reading. Library and study copies of some books. Excuses!

Because I didn’t particularly like it. Actually, I’m not bad at getting rid of these.

Because it’s out of date: reference books, critical works and the like.

Because I’ll never read it again… time is short, and I see books on the shelves that say ‘you enjoyed me once’, but I know I haven’t the eyeball time to spend.

Because lots of books are now available as free downloads. This ought to make it easier, though the poor quality of downloads and the way that formatting sometimes goes all over the place on e-readers puts me off, as does the fact that I often have nice editions of classics.

So, there are a lot of books that I could get rid of. It’s rare that one can get very much for secondhand books as there are so many of them on offer all over the place, so the money spent is put down to entertainment and pleasure at some time in the past, and the books go to some charitable cause. And yet, I find it harder than getting rid of CDs, DVDs, old gadgets and general stuff… in the end, my library is part of my identity; it says who I am and how I got here, and reducing it in size is a bit like amputation (OK, OTT image, perhaps) getting rid of a part of myself.

My library defines me, so I keep it. Don’t ask to come and see it, you’ll think I’m very weird.

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