The space I’ve gained after yesterday’s purge has made me realize that I was devolving into a book hoarder. I had way too many physical books for the house I live in, to the point where it was negatively impacting my quality of life.
As a result, my question today is why do we feel the need to collect and keep print books? What is it about the medium that inspires some of us to hold on to more than is practical?
Pointing this question directly at myself since I am the one who has realized that I have a problem: why do I want to keep so many books?
The only answers I can come up with relate to my history.
When I was a little girl, the first book I remember receiving was a ragged copy of a nursery rhyme book. It had been left in one of the apartments my father owned when the tenants moved out. The cover was missing along with many of the pages but I adored that book. I spent a lot of time just admiring the pages even before I recall having the ability to read. That was the book I would take to my father and beg him to read me a bedtime story from. I’d seen parents read bedtime stories to their children on television so I begged to have them read to me.
I was in the first grade when I recall being able to actually understand what I was reading. I would lose myself in the books I would check out at the school library to the point where I would forget my bus stop–to the immense annoyance of the driver.
I never had enough to read. I was so hungry! I devoured every book I could get my hands on. My parents noticed my hunger so they purchased a set of encyclopedias at an auction around this point. They weren’t readers themselves but they tried. Those books were above my reading level at the time but I adored them just the same.
Internet didn’t exist for the common people in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I grew up so I didn’t have access to the abundance of reading material that we have today. My parents weren’t ones to visit public libraries, so my reading was limited to what I could beg my parents to buy and what I could acquire at school.
It was never enough. I would make bargains with the teachers and librarians to gain extra opportunities to exchange the books I checked out at school. Teachers tried to help by lending me additional books, yet still I felt the hunger.
I wonder if that is the reason I so desperately want to hoard every single book I come in contact with today. Every time I see a book, especially an unwanted book, I want to take it home and love it. I want to place it on my bookshelf just to possess because one day I may want to read it. It doesn’t really matter the subject; I just want to hold them close and keep them.
In light of our modern age, this desire to collect print books no longer makes practical sense. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, the Open Library, and many other resources, older books can be acquired in a variety of formats for free. I have utilized these resources for two decades now, collecting older books in plain text format to save space on my computer. I email them to my Kindle when I am not in the mood to read them on my computer. I even collect PDF books that I read on my computer or my iPad if the books contain images or other items that make reading in their original print format easier.
I have a scary amount of these ebooks. I have over 7,000 titles on my Kindle alone. That’s not including the DVDs and CDs I have burned over the years to archive my collection so it is safe to say that I have an issue with hoarding when it comes to books. I cannot even justify this by saying that I’ve read all of them because I haven’t. I’ve read a huge amount of them but definitely not all of them.
So what makes me this way? is it truly because I felt such a lack of reading material in my childhood? Is it because I’ve went through periods of my life when I couldn’t afford to buy more books? Is it because I feel an attachment to books in particular for some reason?
I don’t know. All I do know is that while the digital collecting of ebooks causes no personal difficulty for me (it is not a burden to store the digital archives since I keep them in a binder with my other files), I do need to learn how to curtail my desire to hoard print books. As much as I adore them, I lack the space to keep every title I encounter. This home is rather tiny and I’m toying with the idea of moving into an even smaller place should the kid decide to move out in the future. The last thing I want or need is for my epitaph to read “Died beneath a mountain of books.”
Then again, if Carrie Fisher can write her own epitaph maybe I can do the same. “Sacrificed her life for the books she loved” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Why do you collect the books that you do? Do you collect purely print, a mix of print and digital, or exclusively digital? How large is your collection (if you were to take a guess)? Maybe if we all share our reasons we will gain a deeper understanding of this phenomena.
For those who are interested, I stumbled upon this article that discusses book hoarding. I found it rather interesting. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/26/bibliomania-the-strange-history-of-compulsive-book-buying