Me: “We need to get rid of some books.”
Husband: “We need to get more bookshelves.”
I am in the midst of moving again, as I have done every few years for my whole life. My husband and I try to keep our earthly possessions to a minimum, but we both have a weakness for books. We’re the children of librarians, after all. We do give some books away, but not as fast as we acquire them. We run a great risk of expanding our collection every time we set foot in a thrift store or second-hand book shop.
Though not strictly adherent to a Dewey Decimal system, our books are organized thematically. I was reminded of this as we packed up the Tolkien shelf, the Jeeves and Wooster, the foreign language section (I will get back to you one day, Marcel Pagnol!), the travel guides to places we have been or desire to go, the shelf of gifts from various mentors. The Bible, Qu’ran, Bhagavad Gita, and other religious texts coexist peacefully. They complement the science shelves, dominated by medicine and natural history, the writings of Oliver Sacks and Steven Jay Gould, and books about quantum theory, cartography, astronomy, marine biology, anthropology.
I check out and return a lot of fiction to my local library but enjoy having copies of the ones I love most. These include my favorite novels (Heart of Darkness, the Name of the Rose), favorite sci-fi/fantasy (you expand my mind, Gene Wolfe), favorite short stories (by Jorge Luis Borges and Flannery O’Connor), and favorite collections of poetry (Donald Hall’s Without: the only book to ever make me tear up in a café). We have a growing set of children’s books as well, some that Baby is ready for now and many more that we look forward to sharing with him when he is able to read books without eating them.
We have moved into our new place now and most of the books are still in boxes. It would be sensible to leave them in storage, since we will probably move again in a year, when we finally make the transition from renting to owning a house of our own. But if we leave the shelves empty, we will be even more tempted by the library book sale.
In the meantime, we will work on instilling Baby with a proper love of books. He enjoys turning the pages of his board books and gnawing on their corners. On weekend days, he seems to like me reading to him from whatever I happen to be reading for myself. He learned all about probability and prediction from The Signal and the Noise and was fascinated by Bhutan in Beyond the Earth and the Sky. He is currently being inspired by Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. At night, he will get his own books for bedtime. His current favorite is Brown Bear. He is growing up in a technological age, but hopefully will also develop an appreciation for physical books and the creativity they represent.