Why We Keep Our Books



I’ve never sold back a textbook. I cringe to think of all the money I’ve lost doing this. I bought them used whenever I could, but when the end of the semester approached and the Textbook Buyback! signs went up in the university store, I just couldn’t bear to part with them.

Hundreds? Possibly thousands that I could have saved over the many years I spent in one university or another. And as a broke college student subsisting on mom and dad’s pity and birthday cards that, at this age, should not have reasonably contained money, but did – one would think I’d jump at the chance to put a couple hundred bucks back in my pocket.

But each semester, I’d pick up my books and note the dog eared pages, the tabs and sticky notes scattered throughout, and recall the nights spent pouring over each page. These bright, printed pages had simply had given too much for me to abandon them now.

Or at least, that’s what I told myself. It would have been far more reasonable to sell a few back. But hey, I survived, and I managed not to starve for it.

Looking around our apartment these days, you’d notice pretty quickly that we’re a household of readers. On first entry, your eye would be drawn to the living room wall lined formidably with several large bookcases. If you looked closer, you’d also notice the kitchen buffet – designed to hold serving platters and Thanksgiving dishes – instead stuffed to the brim with books. The bedside tables have books tossed on top, tucked inside, and more often than not, cuddled with dust bunnies underneath. The sofa table has become a dedicated home for coffee table books, revealing our embarrassing affinity for oversized, ink saturated pages (especially ones detailing world history and garden layouts). And though you might notice all of this, you still wouldn’t know about the many boxes that we have tucked away in the back of our basement, packed with stories and memoirs waiting patiently for a home upstairs.

Last year, while I was deep in nesting mode before Nora’s birth, I started reorganizing the house a bit. Arms full of crib sheets and baby towels, I opened up the linen closet – only to remember that we had been using it as a backup bookcase. There was simply no way to fit her swaddle blankets in with the dictionaries and atlases weighing down the shelves. You would think (and you would be right) that this would have been an appropriate time to realize that some books simply needed to go. Instead, I began stockpiling baby books.

There’s a philosophy that both my husband and I hold dear; the books you love remain part of who you are long after you’ve turned the last page. As children, we are read Guess How Much I Love You and from it, we know that we are loved.  In adolescence, we read Judy Blume and suddenly feel less alone in our scary, changing existence. In university we shape our minds to our discipline of choice, our reading becoming symbolic of the career and life path we believe to have chosen for ourselves. Each book is a record of who we are, and who we were working towards becoming at each stage in our lives.

These days, Judy Blume, Analytical Chemistry, and every reading choice in between still grace my bookshelves. Because of this I’m often asked if I reread my books often, and (since I don’t) why I bother to keep them at all. Just buy a Kindle!, I’m advised. And I admit – perhaps I’d read more if I had one. I might even enjoy the aesthetics of a tablet (think of all the nighttime reading!). Yet despite its conveniences, I feel no compelling desire to change my method.

I like my record of wonders, thoughts and topics, filed away in plain sight. I feel grounded when I see my personal library, built as it has been by curiosities. It’s too easy to forget what felt important to us ten years ago (or last week, for that matter). Though I may not remember each line of The Trial,  I feel its lingering eeriness each time I catch a glimpse of its weathered spine.

I believe my children will know me through my books in a way that they may not by virtue of my simply being their mother. When my daughter is older, she will pull books from the shelves of our library and read of stories and adventures that I once lost myself in, now having long forgotten them. She will grapple with the world as she reads, making sense of it through paragraphs and pages. And as she reads my torn old books, part of who I am will be part of who she becomes.

Today even public libraries are going digital, and somehow this makes me feel even more duty bound to go down with my sinking, paper cut inducing ship. And some day, long from now, there will be an impressive yard sale in which the contents of my library are spilled out onto the street. My neighbors will wonder why I had several books in French and a few others in Russian, why I held onto an old poetry book with a flower pressed in the back and why The Portable Poe is more worn than the rest.  And, perhaps, my daughter will know the answer.


3 thoughts on “Why We Keep Our Books

  1. I totally agree! Books as friends, as therapists, loved ones…. mirrors of who we are as the years pass. I hope you find room for the swaddling blankets, but not at expense of these dog-eared inhabitants!


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