Can you have too many books?
Is it possible? Can anyone have too many books?
Yes, if those books are piling up on chairs and nightstands unread, and you don’t know where your favorites are and you’re plumb out of bookcases or wall space to hold them all. And I’m saying this both as an organizer and as a book lover who has too often run short of shelving in my own home.
If this is your problem, where do you start? First, I have to reiterate my maxim regarding the need for conducting regular mini-purges: Remember That Everything Changes. What had meaning to you five years ago or three years or even last year is not necessarily the same as what has meaning to you today. If you keep accumulating, without staying current on your needs and preferences, eventually you’re going to find that you’re out of room.
This goes for books too. The problem is that books are rarely just books. They represent connections, untapped possibilities, knowledge, history, comfort, security – all of which make it hard to decide which ones should stay and which should go.
Yes, books are our friends, especially when they’re bound to us by the special memories of discovering the joy of reading. I can recall the magic of driving to the library in the winter with my mother when I was young. I was allowed to check out six books at a time and I knew exactly what I wanted – horse books, dog books, mysteries and books about growing up. When I got home, I would run upstairs to my room, carefully balancing the stack, and drop them on the floor next to my reading chair. I’d kick off my shoes, settle into the chair with my chosen book, and press my sock-clad soles against the wall’s hot air damper. An icy wind might be blowing outside, but I had pumping heat to toast my toes and my imagination. Rereading any one of those books brings every bit of it back.
Book management is certainly easier if you can take advantage of your local library. However it’s still possible to get into overstock trouble when you can impulsively click a button on Amazon at home, or books somehow come back with you whenever you stop in Barnes and Noble for a frappucino.
So here you are with too many books. How do you choose which connections to maintain and which to let go? A few suggestions:
Number One: Identify your most beloved books. Of all your favorites, keep only the ones that are in decent condition (i.e., can be reread without the pages falling out) and those that there’s space to store without exposing them to further deterioration. You may want to save some of your children’s favorites for them to take when they move out, but you really don’t want to leave books in an attic or basement for too long; exposure to dampness or temperature extremes is not good for their survival. Ideally, you should be able to have easy access to any you might wish to refer to again. If a particular book is valuable enough to you, you may choose to have it rebound or otherwise preserved. If you’re ready to pass it on but want a reminder of its place in your life, take a photograph of the cover.
Number Two: And then there are those books you’ve purchased but haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Sometimes we confuse buying a book with actually sitting down and reading it. Because they’re not the same thing, the unread books tend to pile up. The best way to deal with this is to survey those books, prioritize them according to your current needs or interests, and schedule reading time. Only obtain additional books once you’ve established a regular reading program. Otherwise, they’re just going to sit in the corner and make you feel guilty.
Number Three: Books you’ve read that don’t fall into the above categories should be passed along for the enjoyment or edification of others when possible. If there’s no interest in a particular subject, perhaps it has outlived its usefulness and can be recycled.
Number Four: And what to do with the ones that aren’t favorites, and that you don’t plan on reading? The question is: why have you been keeping these books? Two major reasons I’ve found are that either someone significant gave them to you, or they’ve blended into the scenery and you no longer notice that they’re there. Ask yourself –are those significant someones still in your life? If they are, will they notice or care if you donate the book to a library sale or veterans’ home? If you apply this reasoning, you’ll find that the vast majority of your unwanted and unneeded books can be passed on without a problem.
Books can be treasures, and like most treasures need to be cared for during their various life spans. If you’re not willing or able to expend the effort to do that, you should trim your collection to the manageable few. And if you do have the time and space to devote to a full-on library, you are a very fortunate soul. Enjoy!