Monday, May 16, 2011

Too many books

After sorting, books are neatly stacked on shelves

Simply Living
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel May 16, 2011)

Books. I love them, but I have too many. The bookshelves in my house hold a lifetime collection of hardback and soft-cover selections. Practically every room of our house contains one or more bookshelf. The printed words of famous and lesser-known authors even fill the attic, where stacks of too-special-to-give-away-but-not-special-enough-to-display tomes are quietly stowed.

I love books, but clearly, my passion was out of control. My husband and I had accumulated printed matter to the point where — at least for me — it provided more pressure than pleasure. I hated seeing silverfish eat their way through pages, and my nose didn't like the layer of dust that settled on the bindings. "Musty" and "messy" defined the shelves. In some rooms, books overflowed onto the floor. The time was ripe for a reassessment of our bibliophile predilection.

Last weekend, I took it upon myself to tackle the problem. Difficult as I find it to dispose of the books, I made myself sort through our horde of written words.

Books differ from other material items. I can toss away old clothes and knickknacks without much trouble, but when it comes to an author's typeset words, I hesitate. Do I really want to give it away? Will I miss it if it's gone? Will the children want it? Or the grandchildren?

When Ralph and I started our family, my in-laws gave us a box full of children's books. "Ferdinand the Bull," "Harold and the Purple Crayon" and "The Possum That Couldn't" were among the many wonderful picture and story books my kind in-laws had thoughtfully saved. My father-in-law carefully re-bound frayed covers and taped over rips before passing the books to the newest generation. I tried to follow their example and, for the most part, succeeded. When I was sorting through the bookshelves the other day, I didn't toss away those treasured tomes. I placed them in a glass-covered bookcase for my own grandchildren's use.

Other books weren't as lucky. I filled about 10 boxes with old almanacs, novels, essays, collections of stories, reference works and schoolbooks. As difficult as it was to decide which would stay and which ones would go, the times we live in made my work easier.

We purchased most of the books in pre-computer days. Back then, if you wanted information you had two choices: Go to the library or buy a book. Ralph and I did both. But why hold on to books if the information they contain can be easily found elsewhere? These days, if I want to look something up, I turn to the Internet instead of paper pages. I still frequent public libraries, but my need for a vast in-house library has considerably waned.

The fact that I have whittled down our collection by getting rid of few hundred books doesn't mean my house has become a literary-free zone. It never will. Even though we have entered the e-book era, I still love the feel of a real book in my hands. I love the excitement of turning pages and staying awake into the wee hours to finish a novel too captivating to put down. One of life's simple pleasures is being surrounded by special books whose words either resonate with meaning or trigger precious memories.

As difficult as it was to start this project, the finished product was worth the effort. I found getting rid of stuff to be extremely satisfying. My house looks better, and that makes me feel better. I love books, but I've found it important at certain stages of life to learn to let go. Letting go is a sensible release, and de-cluttering is an exercise in delight.

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