Too Many Books?
The woman in the black sweater in the third row raises her hand and asks The
Question. The Question that strips away any pretense of expertise on my part.
The Question that exposes me as a fraud in professional organizers clothing:
Woman: What do you do with books you havent read?
Sunny: What do I do? Or what should you do?
Books are my Achilles Heel. Perhaps its because they arent just
books to me, and I know that many people have this problem. Books can be connections,
untapped possibilities, memories, knowledge, comfort, security, promises. Rarely
are they just books.
Some of my earliest and best memories of my mother are of when she would take
me to the library with her. She made the trip every few weeks, and I was convinced
that the armloads of books she brought back and forth with her were her keys
to happiness. I never saw her more peacefully absorbed than when reading.
The best times were when I would have the librarian all to myself and she
would take me into the stacks and recommend her latest favorites that she thought
Id enjoy. She knew, of course, that for me they had to involve animals
in some way particularly dogs or horses. To this day I can see her very
tall, angular frame standing in a shaft of sunlight, paging through a volume
plucked down from high over my head.
And the smells
slightly musty old stacks, polished wood reading tables,
freshly-washed linoleum floors, newly-inked date stamps. It felt magical, and
those feelings suffused the books I brought home with me and spread out on the
floor around my reading chair in my bedroom. Id kick off my shoes, settle
into the chair with my chosen book, and press my sock-clad feet against the
walls hot air damper. An icy wind might be blowing outside, but I had
heat warming my toes and feet and my imagination.
Books, then, have always been more to me than the sum of their pages
companions, friends, teachers, mentors. And theres the rub. How do you
choose which connections to maintain and which to let go?
Lets go back to my professional persona. As an expert consultant on
the subject, I do have some suggestions:
Number One Of all your favorite books, keep only the ones that are
in decent condition (i.e., can be re-read without the pages falling out) and
those that you have space to store without exposing them to further deterioration.
If a particular book is valuable enough to you, you may choose to have it re-bound,
or otherwise preserved. Ideally, you should be able to have easy access to any
that you might wish to re-read.
Number Two Books youve read that dont fall into the above
categories should be passed along for the enjoyment or edification of others,
if possible. If theres no interest in a particular subject, perhaps it
has outlived its usefulness and can be recycled.
Number Three The Original Question. What to do with those books youve
borrowed or purchased but havent gotten around to reading yet? Sometimes
we confuse purchasing or borrowing a book with actually sitting down and reading
it. Because theyre not the same thing, the unread books tend to pile up.
The only way to deal with this is to survey the books, prioritize them according
to your current needs or interests, and schedule reading time. Only obtain additional
books once youve established a regular reading program. Otherwise, theyre
just going to sit in the corner and make you feel guilty. Life is too short
Speaking as an inveterate reader do I follow my own advice? Sometimes.
I try not to accumulate more than I can comfortably store or process, because
that can feel overwhelming. But there are definitely times when a new release
or review will grab my attention and I must have it. Im human.
As I prepare to move, Im making progress sorting through my collection.
Saying goodbye to some memories and making room for new ones.
But bottom line? Reading is one of my fundamental true essentials.