Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hoarding: Buried in Books

When I was a small child, my father read to me and my sister every night before we went to bed.  He re-read our favorite books so often that I started recognizing words and reading on my own when I was about four, and I've been a compulsive reader ever since.  I got my first library card when I was five, and I've had one everywhere I've lived.  I've always thought of books as my friends.

I started buying books when I was in junior high.  One of the English teachers ran a small paperback book kiosk, presumably to encourage student literacy, and I bought a new book every week or two.  I could hardly wait to get home, climb up into the neighbors' tree house, and dive into the latest adventure.  I still have many of those early purchases. 

I've moved an average of every three and a half years during my life, and every time I've moved I've shed more possessions, but one thing has remained constant - I've moved more boxes of books than anything else.  Actually, I've moved more boxes of books than everything else.  I think at their height I owned about 4000 books.  When Barry and I met, he suggested that we get rid of all our previous possessions and jointly buy new things.  I drew the line at the cat, some of my family heirlooms, and the books.  I gave away about half of them, but I couldn't jettison them all.

Lately I've been watching TV shows like "Hoarders" and "Clean House," where people whose houses are overrun with stuff are asked to confront the source of their hoarding compulsions, and I've started to wonder about mine.  I can definitely envision a future where my friends and relatives stage a book-hoarding intervention.  My books are neatly arranged on shelves rather than lying in drifts of debris, but we have them in every room of the house except the bathrooms, where we have magazine racks instead.  Obviously they are some sort of security blanket for me, but I'm not sure why I need one.  Maybe all that moving is to blame; I just don't know.

I live near a new branch library that doesn't stock many older books, so hanging on to favorites unavailable without an inter-library loan makes sense, but not every book on my shelves is a favorite.  I've been saying I would re-read them before deciding which ones can be tossed or donated, but that's not realistic.  I have so many that I know I will never re-read them all, especially since I do frequently re-read the ones I love.

In the past when the books overflowed the shelves I would acquire more shelves.  I don't want to do that any more.  Last month I got rid of a stack of outdated technical books.  Since then I've been skimming novels I haven't read in a long time and setting aside those I know I'll never read again for donation.  This is very difficult because once I start reading I always feel the urge to finish the book.  I'm  determined to stay on track, though.  I want to finish this project by the end of the year.  I doubt I'll ever reach a level of book ownership that other people would consider reasonable, but at least I won't end up like the Collyer brothers.
image of a person reading a book

“The most discouraging feature of the mania for book-collecting is, that it grows by what it feeds on, and becomes the more insatiable the more it is gratified.”  William Mathews

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