“If you cannot read all your books…fondle them–peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.”
Books in this day and age are almost an indulgence to own. They’re pricey, take up valuable space in often too-small living spaces, and if you’re environmentally inclined, kill a lot of trees. It seems simpler, better even, to merely belong to a library or download a digital copy to your e-reader. You’re saving money, space, and the Earth.
But frankly I’d rather stop reading altogether than keep my books in the Cloud.
That’s because I’m a book collector. I horde them. I buy semi-superfluous bits of furniture to house them. I have half my closet filled with old textbooks from undergrad that I can’t bare to get rid of in case I desperately need to consult the Universal Declaration of Human Rights codices. It’s important to me to surround myself with knowledge, adventures, love stories, philosophy, and history and feel the comfort of their presence around me.
When I travel I bring home a bag of books from another country (they have different covers, don’t you know?) instead of t-shirts or souvenirs. When I find a Churchill biography that is out of print in the States in a tiny bookstore in London, I’m bringing home a slice of culture and history with me. It’s a unique piece that not only will broaden my horizons, but every time I walk past it will remind me of the mahogany banisters, the stained glass ceiling above me, and the lingering scent of petrol and curry intermingling with the decaying musk of used books. That one book will be an instant passport to a seemingly innocuous but precious memory every time I see it.
I am a gift giving and receiving connoisseur of books. My family has all but given up on giving me anything but books for all birthdays and holidays, and choosing them is infinitely easy. A history book on World War I or II? A biopic on England in the turn of the century? Delightful anecdotes and tea recipes? I get them all, in all shapes, sizes, and various states of decay and they mean more to me than any gift card to Amazon ever could. In return I love taking the time to seek out the most beautiful covers, the fascinating topics, and the out-of-date editions that will make my loved ones smile. It shows a level of effort and proof positive of a lifetime of listening and caring about their interests. And the older the book the better. It hardly matters if someone else owned it before if it’s in good shape, if it makes as interesting a decoration for the mantle as it provides food for thought. Fiction, non-fiction, gardening or history, or whatever the topic is inconsequential, because the best-seller new release may not have the lasting attachment that something older and coddled might.
Used books tell a story and carry with them their own memories of days gone by. Whether they’re dug out of the box in a garage sale, found in odds and ends antique store, or salvaged from a back shelf in your favorite second-hand book shop, just the finding of them becomes an adventure unto itself. Perhaps it’s out of print or the topic has gone out of vogue in between countless re-writes of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and the latest regurgitated crime thriller, but finding a mid-century fiction book you’ve never heard of feels like you’ve just discovered an unreleased Beatles album. There’s joy in finding something new amongst the old, bringing it home, paging through it and seeing the underlined passages, the folded down pages, and wondering who held it before you and what they took from it. It gives you the ability to connect not only to the book in your hand, the time it came from, but the people who cherished it before you. It’s a shared experience, even if you never meet, connecting you to the world around you.
And so I continue to buy books at every occasion. I don’t spend ungodly amounts on them, most come from used bookstores as my loathing of Barnes & Noble knows no bounds. I try to tell myself to not buy more until I’ve made it through a few more of the ones I already have, but then another rare gem appears and walks out the door with me, resolutions forgotten and $5-10 gone. My “To Be Read” pile grows thicker by the day and there are many history books I know I’ll likely never read to fruition. I’m in the middle of probably 15 books, I’ve secretly read the endings of at least three, and I pick up and idly read another five or so whenever I pass them by. Maybe some would see it as a waste of money and space, an inefficiency that could be done away with in the modern age, but for me it’s like settling in for a nice chat with an old friend on the front stoop. Each one tells a new tale, reminds you of an old story, and leaves you feeling fulfilled and satisfied even with the briefest of interactions.
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