As a child I thought in terms of fiction only. As a teen and early twenty something the dream swelled to include non-fiction and the concept of organised areas to reflect study and interest.
The me at 19 would not have anticipated that the me at 39 would have only two shelves of books to her name.
For a reader, books form a large part of your identity. They are one of the things that define you. If you love reading, the expectation is that you will have lots of books. The owning of books helps to prove your credibility as a reader. How can you say you love books if you don't possess oodles of them?
There is a real difficulty in the western world with being able to appreciate something without having the compulsion to own it; to feel resentment if you can't afford to acquire. Books are affordable nowadays. New books might be beyond the budget for some (I only get them as a rare treat) but charity shops, car boot sales, cheap outlet shops like The Works, library sales and the growing number of book swap shelves in public places mean that obtaining books is very easy. And, for some, a bit compulsive. It's so easy to pick one up and take it home. Maybe two. Maybe more. Then next weekend when you pop into a charity shop and see another title you've been meaning to read it's £1 or less to slip it in your bag, full of good intentions.
For me, letting go of books is also about letting go of an ideal - saying goodbye to a dream from childhood that no longer fits with the woman I am today. The need to partially prove who I am through the items I own is one I am working to address and books are part of that process. Books represent something different to me than they did when I was a child and a younger woman. Unread books are jobs waiting to be done. Non-fiction books are echoes of splinter selves that never took root and have long since faded away. Books are a reminder of lack of time and opportunity in my adult life - and of the new order of my priorities. And I don't want to give space to any of that baggage because life is short.
One of my favourite books is The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger. There's a scene where the main character discovers her own book mobile - the one which is filled with everything she has ever read, from pamphlets to novels. What a deliciously seductive image for a reader!
When I dream of books now, what form to those dreams take? I see a small collection, beloved books that I can return to both to enjoy something known and perhaps discover something new I haven't picked up on in previous readings. Books that give me echoes/ connections to my younger selves, a thread linking present to past. I think I'm nearly there. Everything on those two shelves of mine is now relevant. Every book means something and I feel like I have a living, evolving collection rather than an unwieldy heap I don't enjoy but feel guilt at the idea of parting with. I look forward to welcoming new volumes when the words of another writer tangle in my heart and mind, and to letting go of books as they cease to be relevant to me.
I am still able to appreciate those who have big libraries, of course, and to enjoy reading about people, like Susan Hill, who have vast collections of books. It's very pleasant to have the freedom to daydream of books without the conditioned compulsion to acquire and amass them too.
|All images on this post from Pixabay|