I’m a book hoarder. I couldn’t tell you how many I have, but it numbers in the thousands. I still own a few books I picked up in high school and many from college and grad school days. Despite frequent moves (including two moves to and from Singapore), virtually all of my books have stayed with me over the years. Until recently.
I’ve been in my current house since 2001. Before I moved in, I had bookshelves built in the living room/den and in the third bedroom/office. I also brought with me a few freestanding bookshelves that I’d had in my last home. Those shelves were adequate for a while, but eventually, my library grew beyond capacity. Now, besides the built-ins, I have bookshelves in the guest room, the hallway outside the guest room, and in my bedroom. Not to mention piles on the floor of my office. And also not to mention the boxes of literary magazines that came off shelves to accommodate books that were previously on the floor. I’m swimming in them.
I generally subscribe to the belief that one cannot have too many books, but that assumes that space is expandable infinitely, as if all of the universe were available to me for book storage. There simply comes a time when you run out of room, and I’ve reached that time. (Books aren’t the only problem, I have to say. Where did all those clothes come from? And do I really need all those wine glasses? Plus, what’s with all those coffee mugs?)
If I don’t do something about the books now, someone—who that someone is remains unclear—will have to deal with them when (not if, obviously) I die. (You’ve probably heard about the Swedish Death Cleaning rage; I’m giving it a lot of thought.) So here’s what I’m doing about my book problem.
- eBooks/Audiobooks. I own a Kindle. When possible, I buy eBooks. I also listen to books in the car that I get on Audible. I guess those books will “die” with me, as no one else can access them easily, but at least they don’t take up space. (Yes, I feel guilty about feeding the Amazon beast with these purchases, but these are options that fit into my lifestyle neatly.)
- Libraries. I’ve rediscovered the library! One book I wanted recently was only available in electronic form from the library, which I thought was ironic, and generally I’m checking out books that I can consult as I’m listening to the audio version, but definitely, the libraries can help relieve my book-acquiring problem. Also, they can be repositories for some books as they come off the shelf at home and look for new homes, although my library only wants books (for its fundraising sales) published within the last two years. That eliminates a lot of the books I would part with willingly.
- Selling Books. We have a great used bookstore in my town. They won’t take just any book, but they will take most hardcovers and will pay me for them with store credit. It isn’t much, but it’s something, which is more than nothing. Yes, that means I’ll end up bringing home more books, but it works out to about six books out for one book in, a ratio I can live with that will relieve pressure on the shelving crisis.
- BookCrossing. This is the most entertaining option. Take a book from your shelf. Register it at the website to get the book’s particular ID number (not its ISBN). Print a label and add the number. Stick the label inside the cover of the book. Then leave the book somewhere. A finder can then pick up the book and keep it. Ideally, they’ll log onto the website, as instructed by the label, and you can follow the path of the book as it moves from one hand to the next as long as the temporary owners keep the website updated. I released one book several years ago and nothing happened—I have no idea what became of it because whoever picked it up didn’t update the website—but I’m going to do several more in the coming week, so maybe I can stir up some interest. If you find a BookCrossing book, be sure and long on to let the liberator know. I was at a coffee shop today and left a book on a table when I left. A helpful gentleman saw that I’d exited without picking up the book and ran after me with it. I explained what was up and showed him the label I’d put inside. He seemed to have heard of the idea and took the back inside. Perhaps he’ll take the book home. I hope so.
- Giveaways. Because I have a growing pile of books that the bookstore won’t buy and the library won’t take, I’ll end up giving them away. Many will end up donated to various organizations, or I’ll give them to individuals, including readers of my blog.
- Trash. Sadly, some books in my collection will end up in the trash (or, ideally, in the recycling bin). I’m trying to avoid that, but I fear it’s inevitable.