I own too many books. Bookshelves line three walls of our extra room, each shelf stacked two books deep. In the closet off the fourth wall books are piled waist high. Down the hall in my office, every surface except the floor is covered, and the floor is going fast. I try to keep library books downstairs in the living room. If I bring them up here, I might never see them again.
My son gave me a Kindle for Christmas. I haven’t used it. It would solve my bedtime reading problems—no glare, light-weight—and my storage problems as well, but all my life, and I really mean all my life, I’ve been holding books in my hands. Books and babies—hand me either one and I know what to do.
I buy books from Amazon and used-book sites and independent bookstores. I get rid of books, too, in fits and starts, racking up credit in two fine used book stores downtown, where I return frequently to get more books.
I write in books, and that’s a problem. I highlight, underline, make notes in the margins, write questions on the flyleaves and lists of more books to read on the endpapers. Used book stores won’t take books that have been marked up. And if it’s a book I felt moved to write in, I usually don’t want to trade it anyway.
For the past year or two, while I’m reading a book I like, I’m restless until another book by the same author is on the way. That is, the good book in my hands isn’t enough. I comb Suggested Reading lists and sometimes footnotes for titles the author I’m reading used as source material. I’m halfway through John Gray’s Straw Dogs right now, and the list of books it’s suggesting is a little scary—for example, Schopenhauer. I’ve been circling around Schopenhauer for some time, coming closest to picking him up after reading Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks. I need a really good reason, however, to enter the mind of an author who was, among other things, a famous misogynist. John Gray might be a good enough reason to read Schopenhauer.
Buying books has become one of my revolving addictions. I get rid of one addiction, and another one crops up—sort of like books. I’ve been hesitating for a long time to tackle this particular vice because (1) it's made me who I am, and (2) what follows might be worse. But I’m convinced now, late in the game, that the second-half-of-life project for us baby boomers must be to get rid of most of the stuff we’ve accumulated and go willingly into the stripped-down world our accumulation has caused. It's just around the corner.
So books. I need a culling strategy.