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Full Bookshelves

on January 3, 2012

So this past week my mother and I moved into her new house. I’v learned a lot about the house searching and buying process. And the moving out and in process too, I imagine.

But something just occurred to me: Why do we hang onto books that we are never going to read again? Sure, some people actually DO read books more than once, Harry Potter being a personal example. But one-off books that I know I will never read again, why keep them? Why fill up the bookshelves, aside from the pleasant aesthetic of a full bookshelf? Or in an attempt to show guests you are well read?

My mother has boxes and boxes… and boxes of books that are still in the basement waiting to be moved into a bookshelf somewhere. If I suggested she get rid of some of the books she would probably say that’s not a bad idea but then decide that she just liked having them. She might pick 10 books or so to donate, but she’d ultimately hang on to the majority of the titles.

There are some non-fiction books that are perfectly acceptable to keep forever, but I’m mostly referring to fiction.

But I’m wondering is there a connection to those books which you know you won’t ever read again, but still insist on keeping? Is there some feeling of accomplishment in looking at the numbers of books you’ve digested over the years? For me that’s probably the reason. If you asked me to dump out all my fiction books in my bookshelf that I didn’t plan on reading again I’d probably squeal a bit and whine and with enough coaxing might donate the majority, but it would be somewhat grudgingly. Of course, afterward I would probably conclude it was for the best and subsequently would make room for all the books I would read in the near future.

This is despite the fact that I am a slow reader and it will probably take me years to read the Song of Ice and Fire series, sprinkling other books in between.

I’ve lost myself in this post/idea a bit, but I just found it an interesting question: Why hang onto books you’re never going to read again? What do they physically mean to you? And in this day and age where people are reading books electronically, what attachment do you have to those copies, if any at all?

I suppose the simples answer of all is that we want to hang onto the books that touched us. When we glimpse those volumes on the shelves we spend only the briefest moment remembering, but ultimately reliving the ups and downs of whatever characters reside within. And even in this day and age where electronic media is king, there is still something to be said about having printed words on real paper, bound, sometimes worn with age.  To wrap your fingers around and feel a physical connection to the words and ideas within… well, that’s also a testimony to the magical medium of writing.


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