Thinning the shelves

Are books just clutter you should get rid of or an essential or something in between? Julian Baggini leans toward the first.

Having recently put everything into boxes for the less terminal adventure of a house move, we decided to strictly limit how much came out of them at the other end. However, we knew that there is one kind of object that defiantly resists the cardboard coffin: books. Like so many, we would happily decimate our wardrobes, clear out our cupboards and gut our garages, but would struggle to liberate our libraries. Why is it so hard?

For a lot of reasons. We want to read a lot more books than we get around to reading. Some books merit re-reading, some multiple times. It’s good to have a wide choice. Reading actual books as opposed to articles (or ahem blog posts) is a good workout for the brain…even if you do swiftly forget what you’ve read, at least I hope so.

But more than that – more, and vaguer. A deflating reason Julian talks about is showing off, displaying how clever you are, trying to impress. Maybe, but I think there’s also a less tacky version of that, which is an actual love of books, and what they stand for (not just in the sense of flattering your vanity). They look right – they look more right than a wall filled with a screen. If you grew up on books, and remember your first trips to the public library and finding great heaps of book that you took home and devoured, you like having a wall of them even if no one ever sees it.

This doesn’t apply to books as books, though; they have to be books you care about, books you want to read or re-read. Acquiring 10 boxes of books you have no interest in from a garage sale is no use at all.

This is clearly what Julian meant too, since he didn’t get rid of all of them, but just thinned them out.

We still have more than enough books left, though maybe not enough to impress a true library-builder. But nearly 500 books have been boxed, and I am already feeling lighter. As my better half said, before there were so many books it was as though you couldn’t see the trees for the wood. We couldn’t delight in any of them because we were overwhelmed by all of them.

Ah, a mere 500, ones he didn’t actually want to read. That’s another matter.

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