I could read like a fourth grader by my first day in Kindergarten. I got my first library card, by myself, when I discovered a small community library at my bus stop. I was lucky—the librarian didn’t let my scant nine years stop her from recommending grown-up books to me. She recognized a kindred spirit when she saw one. I wondered over big glossy art books, thrilled by the colors in the paintings and the stories of the artists’ lives.
Some of my fondest memories are of sharing books with my numerous brothers and sisters. We loved discovering oddities on my father’s bookshelves, and that man always had a book in his hand. My own daughters treasure books they remember from my bookshelves during their childhood. Sharing books has always been a joy and I, too, always had a book with me wherever I went.
I stayed faithful to my library until I discovered I could own them. That’s when the ‘collecting’ began. My bookshelves were a clear picture of who I was and what fascinated me, obvious to anyone interested enough to browse them. And, conversely, I loved browsing other people’s bookshelves, fascinated by what I found out about them as well. I have books everywhere, on nightstands, kitchen counters, and big art books on the coffee table in front of my sofa.
But I once took ten pounds of books with me on a two-week trip to Russia and Finland. Big mistake. I bought a Kindle as soon as I got back to the States. It was brilliant, really——the thing held hundreds of books and didn’t even weigh a pound, perfect for traveling the world. Technology is insidious and now, ubiquitous. I have the Kindle app and Audiobook apps on my phone, earbuds in my purse, a usb cord in my car. Now I can read anywhere, anytime. It’s impossible to resist convenience.
Discarded book collections overflow in Goodwill stores and thrift shop shelves. In the last Pottery Barn catalogue I noticed featured “nick-knack” shelves instead of bookshelves, and I’m seeing that shift everywhere I look. No longer can I browse bookshelves as a guest in someone’s house. You can’t tell what I’m reading (or thinking) anymore from looking at my bookshelves, and it makes me sad.
So, shopping in a local second hand store, I came across three or four shelves of hard cover books I have already ‘read’, but on some random device—I didn’t own the actual book. I felt a sense of kinship with the previous owner of these books—we had the same taste in fiction! I grabbed a basket and tossed as many of the books I’ve actually read in the basket. As I checked out (grand total:$35) I made myself a promise: I’m going to attempt to track down every book I’ve ever read. I’ll take my time, I’ll buy them used, and I’ll share them with friends again. But mostly, they feel like old friends, and I like keeping my old friends around.