The weight of my books

I’ve been through a lot with my books. They moved across the country from Ohio to Seattle, across the Pacific Ocean to Dubai, then at last across the Atlantic and up the mountain to our house.

Between Tom and I, we have many hundreds of books. One of the things we loved about Azalea was the built-in bookcases surrounding the fireplace. Here they are, when we first saw the house:

Even still, we needed to have bookshelves built in our offices to handle all our books. And then they spilled from the shelves onto tables and into cupboards.

Having so many books gave me a feeling of wealth. The richness of experience, the knowledge I had gained, the depths and heights of emotion, the global span of the subjects – I could feel all these, just running my eyes across their spines.

Books shelter me from loneliness, from apathy, from boredom. Nose in a book, I am concealed and defended.

Books are warm. The pages never feel cold or hot; they make that lovely crisp sound as you turn them. Snuggling next to the fire on a grey day requires tea and a book.

Sometime in the last few years, my feelings changed.

The books lining the shelves took on a collective weight that was bordering on oppressive. The bookcases glared at me like my endless to-do lists, with no room to breathe. I saw in their subject groupings accusations of what I hadn’t learned well enough – Afghanistan, statistics, photography.

E-book readers, first the Nook and then a Kindle, changed everything. Now I can hold hundreds of books with one hand, read in bed without turning on a lamp, highlight to my heart’s content, and search all my notes from all my books on one handy web page.

The volume of information available online also changed my reading habits. Where I previously would have referred to my books, now I look at websites.

I still have a few categories of books that I use regularly in hard copy: art, art instruction, naturalist studies, and herbalism reference. Even those are in head-to-head competition with online resources. It’s nicer to sit in a chair holding those books, though; and out in the field, whether drawing or botanizing, you may not always have Internet access.

I have a handful of books that are sentimental objects – my childhood copies of Charlotte’s Web and The Little Mermaid and various poets.

And there are books whose writing is so tremendous that you can’t bear to be physically apart from them – much of our Faulkner collection falls in that category.

All of these truly special books add up to perhaps three or four dozen volumes. As it is, they are crammed in between all the other books that I don’t use. This congestion makes them less accessible.

My relationship with books has changed. It seems natural that the bookshelves themselves should change.

My idea is to give away most of my books. Clear the bookshelves so that I can see their lovely wood. Display my treasured few books as in a gallery shop, some opened, some covers outward, tempting, easy to touch.

The books would be interspersed with light and air. Not only empty space and sunlight, but ideas and senses intermingling – small pots of herbs, fused glass pieces, antique and foreign objects. Other ways to integrate the bookshelves, and the books, with my mental and emotional life.

It’s all part of a new chapter for Azalea.

Today’s penny is a 2013, the year I bought a Nook.

6 thoughts on “The weight of my books”

  1. I share with my own books so many of these feelings and experiences you describe. Now I keep only those I will use for reference, those with sentimental value, or those I hope to re-read someday. When I finish books, I pass them along or donate them to a library. I think of it as planting seeds or (to mix metaphors) introducing others to special friends.

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