A book is a very romantic thing. The smell, the weight, the sound of a page turning. Growing up, my safe space was in “the stacks”. My childhood home, my grandparent’s home, many of the various homes I spent a lot of time in, were marked by always-growing and shifting piles of books. Piles on the stairs, in the hallways, spilling over from bookshelves. It was one of the ways I used to size up the virtue of a person when I stepped into their house. If there were few books, could they be trusted?
But I tend not to think like that anymore. I’ve felt my sentimentality towards piles of books waning. Maybe it’s because I’ve just moved for the fourth time in five years—two times which have been a long haul to a new country. Maybe it’s because for this last move, I’ve had to carry boxes up three flights of stairs. Books are f$&%ing heavy. Actually, that has a lot to do with it.
The fact is: even though I love reading and love what books represent, I rarely read them more than once. So why should I carry them with me? When I have re-read a book, I rarely find the same feeling I had from the first time. It’s more likely the warm fuzzy feelings had something to do with what hormones were pulsing through my body at the time, if it was rainy or sunny outside, if I read it with a friend, if it sparked new questions in me. At some point, I realized that I was holding onto my books for those feelings and memories, rather than the stories. Talk about heavy.
So I’ve been clearing out my shelves in exchange for ebooks. It feels incredibly liberating, I have to tell you. Not only do I have more space in my home and less weight to carry in the next move (this is a sub-lease after all), but I no longer have a finite collection of books that are supposed to sum up my outlook in life. Nor do I feel obligated to finish any of the books that I’ve made space for that I just can’t get into. Back into the universe* they go.
I thought about this change for a long time. I researched ereaders and their environmental repercussions, crowdsourced recommendations from friends, family, and coworkers, and weighed the financial investments. Most importantly, I reckoned with my self-identity as a book-lover. Finally, I found a humble ereader that allows me to check out ebooks from a library (Yay, libraries!!). I started using goodreads as a way to maintain a bookshelf in the cloud, so I could remember what authors I liked. I still get the stories I love, but in a lighter format.
Having said all of that, I know that I will never give up physical books completely. I did in fact carry back two petite Carson McCullers paperbacks from my last trip to my parents’ house in California, though I expect I may give them away some day. I will always find reasons to spend time in libraries. I will always appreciate the tactility, the smell, the weight, etc. (I recently visited a typesetting museum and my appreciation for the effort that went into creating books grew immensely.) But now I don’t feel that I need this experience around me in my home anymore. I love books. I have faith that they will find me in the world when I need them to.
*friends, family, lending libraries, and thrift stores