“I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.” -Roger Zelazny
When I moved into the first house I owned, I had forty boxes of books. When I moved to Los Angeles, necessity forced me to trim that number to twenty boxes. Moving back to Cleveland, I cut it to twelve. When I moved to where I am now, I cut it back to nine.
I understand loving your library. I enjoy running my eyes and fingertips over the spines, remember the pleasure each book brought me, recalling why each is special.
When they are special, that is. As a younger man, I owned a lot of books I never read. They were the showcase books; the books that projected the image I wanted to foster. I wanted people who came to my house to believe that I was the sort of person who reads those sorts of books. When I bought them, I intended to read them…and never did.
How badly did I want to read them, then? Not very, it turns out.
You may think that those were the first books to go. No…the first were the books I’d read and knew I would never read again. Next were the books that meant little to me beyond some passing academic interest. Next were the old paperbacks I knew friends would enjoy. It wasn’t until the fourth pass that I got rid of my Let’s-Pretend section of books, and it was a hard thing to do.
Giving up that section of books showed me that I was not yet the person I wanted to be, but also that I had not become the person I thought I would be. When I got rid of them, it was a release of personal expectation, there came a freedom to not be bound to what had come before.
As I write this, I’m looking bookshelves that are full of computer programming manuals that either I have not read in years, have never read, or, in the minority, some that are well worn and time honored. I’ll keep the latter. It is time to get rid of the former two.
They say you can tell a lot about a person by their library, and I believe that is true. But I also know that you cannot tell a book by its cover, and while stocking all these extra titles might bolster the self esteem, it’s possible the spines have never been cracked. At that point, are we fooling our visitors or ourselves?