Keeping books, and learning to let go

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I find our relationship with books as physical objects a little odd. Almost everyone I know, myself included, is in the habit of hanging on to them, accumulating them on shelves around their house. Getting rid of books becomes a big step, unthinkable to some, even though we know we’ll probably never read most of them again. It’s a little odd.

As a habit, I can see how it made sense at one time. Books used to be rare. They used to be things of fairly high value. They used to be hard to replace. These days, between libraries, Amazon, charity shops and e-readers, you can replace almost any book for a couple of quid, assuming all you care about is the writing inside.

Just the books I can reach  from bed
Just the books I can reach from bed

Of course, that’s quite a big assumption, and not true for some people. I know someone who collects signed August Derleth originals. For him, it’s as much about the collection, about the physical objects and the joy of discovering them, as it is about the contents. But most of us haven’t consciously turned book collection into a hobby, it’s more just a habit that spreads across our homes until every corner is full of paper.

I think this is one of those cases where our habits and emotional attachments haven’t caught up with our changing society. I suspect that, if I ditched most of my books, then the time and money I saved not keeping them in order, not moving them every time I moved house, being able to easily find the few I kept, would vastly outweigh the cost of buying one or two again when, years later, I decided that I wanted to re-read them. But can I bring myself to do that? Not quite. Not yet.

What about you? Do you keep all your books? Are some throw-aways? Are your habits changing? Leave a comment, let me know.