On Having a Library

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Books by old, dead guys (no disrespect meant), some still wrapped in cellophane…

Many times, when not tending to the urgencies of my life, I turn back to the job of paring down, preparing for the coming stage when there will undoubtedly be less space. This week I came to an important conclusion which I hope will help me. I had to ask myself the question “do I want to have a library, or do I want to read?” Some clarity is needed here, because they are not the same.

Over the years, the husband and I have moved six times. Each time our library has grown with our changing interests, filling boxes and boxes of books, taking a lot of storage space. We have seldom done anything to diminish the load. We did sell our Encyclopedia Britannica set when it became apparent that there was better, more current information available on the internet – that’s about it.

I went through a period when my primary furniture interest was bookshelves. I bought them with visions of having a real library in our home, where shelves lined the walls and comfy chairs begged us to sit and read. That didn’t happen, but we did end up with bookshelves in every room but the kitchen (actually there were shelves for books in the kitchen too, sorry).

I have come to some useful observations, one being that I have not read a majority of the books I own. They are not interesting enough for me to want to read them NOW. They are “someday” books, waiting for whenever. The most embarrassing example of this is the set of classics we bought, again with the Encyclopedia Brittannica, in our second year of marriage. Quite a few of them still have the cellophane wrappers around them, having not even been opened in 40+ years. I know I’m probably missing out, but I seldom get the urge to read Socrates, or even Freud. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Another useful observation that gives me some direction for the future, is that a lot of my pleasure in books is that I like to look at them. Even the ugly ones, old and tattered, please me when they are lined up on the shelf in just the right way. I could pretend that they speak of my eclectic, intellectual interests, but no, I like their color, their geometric forms, their two or three word messages printed with a variety of interesting fonts looking at me down the row. And for my visual pleasure I probably need only five boxes of books, not thirty-five.

You see, the important question came clear to me yesterday, as I took another load to the used book store. The question is, do I want my own personal library, or do I want to read? The answer is that I want to read. But with few exceptions, I don’t want to read what is in my own library. I want to read the book I heard about on the radio, or the book one of my daughters wants me to read with her, or the book that tells me how to cope with life here and now.  I want to read it slowly, note the parts I like, maybe write down some quotes, and then I want to give it back so I don’t have to cart it around and dust it for another 40 years. If it’s one I think would be valuable to read again (and if it looks pretty) it will go in one of the five “keeper” boxes.  Just sayin’, it’s time to lighten the load.

 

One of the things about retirement that I’ve noticed is that a lot of my retired friends have asked for recommendations of good books. I’ve had to think of my favorite reads and be able to name them. I’ve also been looking for good writing. As my interest in writing grows and I wonder how I might express things I want to write, I look for books that captivate me, stir my desire to be moved by words. When I read, I’m also thinking “Do I want to write like this?”, “yes or no?”.

 What have been your favorite, most valuable reads? Whose writing inspires you?

One thought on “On Having a Library

  1. I love a well-told story. It can be fiction or non, serious or hilarious. It can be historic, contemporary, or futuristic. If it’s fiction, it needs well-developed characters who grow over time and are real enough that I forget they were made up by a real person. It needs a layered plot with twists and surprises. I’m happy to believe anything as long as it makes sense. If it’s non-fiction, I want to feel the people are with me.

    No matter what genre, I want to be transported and moved. Excited and satisfied. I’d rather read something that touches ideas that seem important to life than pieces of fluff that just consume some of my time without adding any insights.

    As I age, I find I have less patience for writing that isn’t “excellent” — a totally subjective judgement that’s difficult to define, but easy for me to identify for myself, according to my own reading and writing experience. I’m no longer opposed to giving up on any book that falls short in my opinion. Take it back to the library, leave it in a Little Free Library box, or give it to someone who wants to read it.

Talk (write) to me.

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