Too many books

I’ve been a reader as far back as I can remember — more nonfiction than fiction, and more short works than long books. But I love to read.

A book about me

I used to keep every book I read. That way, there was a lasting physical connection to the feelings and thoughts each book stirred in me.

Additionally, from my mid-20s until about my mid-30s I edited books, for a while as my main job and later as a side gig. Publishers sent me a copy of every book I edited. They were like my babies; how could I let any of them go?

I had shelves and shelves full of books, and more in closets, and some in boxes in the garage.

And then my first marriage ended. Nearly broke, I downsized into a 300-square-foot apartment. There was no room for most of my stuff, let alone my books.

As I sorted through them, I realized I had read only tiny fraction of them more than once. It finally struck me that keeping them was just wasting space. I sold or gave away all but a short stack of books that represented a cherished memory or that affected me deeply.

I took to borrowing books from the library, and later buying them for my Kindle. The cloud can store far more books than my house can! And when it’s time to move to a new house, the Kindle is far lighter than a whole library of books.

This was part of a larger change in the way I looked at stuff. I had tons of it, and to fit in my tiny home I could keep almost none of it. So I got rid of it — and then I felt free owning so little. It shocked me how good it felt.

I eventually bought a house again, but did not return to my accumulating ways. I furnished the place and I bought things I needed to function there. But periodically, and especially when I sold the place a couple years ago, I went through my stuff and got rid of things I didn’t use regularly.

In recent years my hobbies have led me to buy paper books again. I own a couple dozen books related to transportation history, which I use to research my road trips. They are all long out of print and not available electronically.

I started buying books of photographs a few years ago. It’s lovely to see photographs printed, rather than always on screens. I own a book of Polaroids made by Ansel Adams, one of 1930s New York scenes by Berenice Abbott, a collection of Edward Weston images, and a lovely book about making photographs around one’s home by Andrew Sanderson. I’ve learned a lot studying these works of accomplished photographers. I also own a couple dozen zines, chapbooks, and Blurb books published by other photo bloggers. I’m a sucker for those. If you make one, I’ll probably buy it.

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25 thoughts on “Too many books

  1. I wish I could be as evolved as you. But I have not divorced, have not downsized and have not moved in close to 30 years. I consequently have books, books, books. My struggle is finding time to read those I have bought.

    I did get rid of most of a small legal library when I downsized an office a few years ago, as they were essentially useless these days because of electronic subscriptions.

    • Had my first marriage not ended, I might never have faced the vast amount of stuff I owned. I was attached to a lot of stuff! It was only in letting it all go that I realized that I felt burdened by all of my stuff, and not having it all anymore felt freeing.

      • I think you would deeply enjoy it; possibly the first automotive road-trip book and a fascinating description (through Dreiser’s eyes) of pre-automotive (eastern) America. It’s available online through Indiana University.

        • Fascinating. I’ll look it up.

          I have a remarkable book here called Overland by Auto in 1913, about an Indiana family that moved to California for work but that didn’t work out and they drove back. It’s the transcription of the wife’s diary. There were hardly any roads between the California and the Mississippi River!

  2. I love my books but have been gradually weeding over the years. This year, every book I read is getting shelved together so that at the end of the year, there’s a physical representation of all the words I’ve read. It’s completely neurotic, I know but pandemic times have allowed me to read more and I’m curious to see the collection at year end. 📚

  3. I did a Marie Kondo on my book collection some time ago. Now I read everything on my iPad, which is very nice for looking at books because you can adjust the brightness of the screen, the font size, and so on. The only physical books I kept were my photography books, which are either not available in electronic format or better to look at on paper. In fact, I just received a copy of “In Search of Beauty” by Fritz Henle today. He’s one of those photographers that really changed my ideas about photography.
    Oh, and I kept a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”.

    • I have one five-shelf bookshelf with all of my books in it. If I get more books, pretty soon I’ll have to get rid of one book for every book I take in!

      It really is better to have physical photography books, though.

  4. You mean I should start to downsize all those academic geology books from when I was a professor? Never mind that I haven’t used most in 20 years ;=)

    I was trying to find ‘special’ geology student to give them to. And I have given a few away……..It’s only taking up an entire wall of my basement……I’ll get to it eventually..

  5. I love books. I hate moving them. And I have moved a lot. Seems no matter how you pack them, they’re just heavy to move around. The last two moves, I gave away most of the books I rarely opened and kept just a few. Minimalism seems to suit me now.

    • The other thing that I hate to move is records. I no longer have my LPs or my turntable. But an old friend does. He’s an audiophile, actually, and has an amazing set of equipment. He also owns more than 6,000 records. He says that he may stay in his current home until he dies, rather than ever move them.

  6. Shirley B. says:

    I have been reading a lot, ever since I learned how to. Buying (second hand) books or using my subscription to the Public Library: books were and are a major part of my life.

    When I still lived at home, with my parents, it was my dream to own a library. Multiple bookcases, which would contain all the books I read. Since moving out, I/we got those many bookcases, filled with (mostly my) books. When going on vacation there were always too few books that could come with me.

    Imagine how happy I was when I bought my first e-reader. I also used to read on my tablets. But love my Kobo Forma (which is my 4th e-reader) more. It’s waterproof, so no more wet books when I read in the tub.

    Over the years, I had to choose which books to keep and which had to go. There are never too many books, just too little shelf room.

    I too learned about Marie Kondo. I found that I read a lot of books on my Kobo. And only kept copies of those books that I read over and over again. So now there are less bookcases. And I even have room to place new books. I like it so much, I hope to keep it this way.

    • I used to think it would be wonderful to have a wall lined in bookshelves. But now all I would think every time I saw all those books is, “Good heavens, I never want to move again because of all those books!!”

      I have a basic Kindle from several years ago. I wish it had a backlight. I’ll upgrade to one that does eventually.

      • Shirley B. says:

        Other than lack of space and Marie Kondo, another reason to say goodbye to a lot of my books, is that we have 1 son. We are trying to save him a lot of future hassle by getting rid of stuff ourselves.

  7. Growing up we didn’t have enough money to support my reading habit. So I made friends with my local dealer. AKA the library. Since you must return them to stay in their good graces, I never felt a need to keep them. Still books magically appear in my home, thanks to Sweetie. Last year we culled over a thousand books from his collection, and still kept, in my opinion, too many. It is amazing how they multiply when you’re not watching.

    • Culled a THOUSAND? Wow. That’s a lot of books.

      My family didn’t have much money either but my mom spent some of it to enroll us in the Weekly Reader Book Club. Every month, my brother and I got two new books each. It was wonderful.

  8. I appreciate you sharing this part of your life, Jim. You’ve gone through some tough times.

    I read two novels per weekend when I was a bachelor. I’m a slow reader so I need uninterrupted quiet time to read. Marriage and kids left me with little mental space to read so I quit trying. I haven’t read a book in over a decade.

    I think photography books are expensive. Many of the recommendations I’ve been given are for books that. OST hundreds of dollars.

    • I had some childhood stuff and then I chose very poorly the first time I got married. So yeah, I’ve had some tough times.

      Here’s hoping that life shifts for you so that you can read again! And yes, photography books are expensive. It’s why I don’t own more.

  9. Richard Novak says:

    Your book by Booth Tarkington caught my eye. Have you read that one? He was well known as an alumni at Princeton (where I went as an undergraduate), but I had not realized that he started out at Purdue in Indiana. My youngest recently graduated from Purdue, and I’ve lived in Illinois now for over 25 years, so appreciate the Midwest more than I did growing up in NJ. I don’t think I’ve read any books by Tarkington, I’ll have to check some out. He was America’s greatest novelist in the early 1900s, according to Wikipedia. I understand your point on downsizing and getting rid of “things” like books; in fact I know I’ll need to do that soon. Despite donating hundreds of books to the library, we still have over 1000 books in the house. However, even when I become more ruthless with my collection, I know I’ll always have quite a few. I never know when I may just look at one of my shelves, say “I think I’ll read this one now,” and find out that I just love it, and wonder why it sat there for years without me reading it earlier. Sometimes it just takes some particular circumstance to make that happen. And many that I’ve read bring pleasant memories just seeing them there.

    • I bought that book for my Kindle, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I don’t read much fiction anymore — have to really push myself to do it. I prefer history and memoir!

      I like the experience of a physical book, but my Kindle and Kindle phone app let me read anywhere I am, without having to carry anything extra.

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