I’ve mentioned before that I have spent the last few falls getting rid of stuff and cleaning. In addition to the typical deep cleaning I do, this year’s main projects are my office (which has been rearranged) and the living room books which, until recently, I thought were going to stay forever. Except for the mister’s books (which we’ve been talking about going through for ages), the books I currently have include decorative books of classics, antiques, personal growth and spirituality books, empty journals, and books I’ll actually read again. Getting to this point—where our bookshelf is as lean as it is (that is, from a bibliophile’s perspective), has been a process, though.
I graduated college almost 20 years ago and, even then, majoring in English indicated to the world that I wanted to teach. While I did take the necessary classes so I’d be prepared to teach, I really majored in English because I love fiction. The thinking was that I could read classics and get my degree at the same time. Even 20 years ago, choosing a major based on what I wanted to learn (instead of what I wanted do with my life) wasn’t a common occurrence.
In the years since college, I’ve had large rooms with hundreds of books and I’ve had rooms with a couple bookshelves with the most important books. I’ve slowly been going through them and deciding what I need and what I don’t. Then, a couple years ago, we moved into our current house—it’s smaller than most houses being built today and, while I love the layout, there’s no room for a wall of bookcases. The mister built me some shelves in the space we do have in the living room, and the rest went onto shelves we built into the spare closets.
I thought then that putting my books in closets was symbolic of an evolution of how I view my reading material, but it’s taken me a bit to figure it out.
What I’ve realized is that I kept all these books because I wanted to show off how well-read I am to stroke my ego—maybe to prove to the world that an English major is worthwhile or perhaps that I am an impressive person because I’ve read both War and Peace and Moby Dick (neither of which I liked well enough to read again, to be honest) or some other reason entirely. Sure, I love having books around me, but they’re still around me at the library or at a bookstore (as few as there are these days). All my book collection proved was that I read them (or wanted to read them) and have an opinion on them. I simply wanted them there so others would be impressed with my intelligence.
And I’ve realized I don’t need that anymore.
So, once I’m done clearing things out, you’ll look at my bookshelves and find the authors I regularly read and am touched by: J.K. Rowling, Diana Gabaldon, Deborah Harkness, Ursula LeGuin, Willa Cather, Maya Angelou. What you won’t find are books I know I’ll never reread because of the status I think they give me (Shakespeare, Milton, Dostoevsky) and, while this is strange, it feels better this way. My dream when I graduated college was to have a wall big enough to line bookshelves with them and have all my books on display—and now my collection is so minimal and random most bibliophiles will find it laughable. And that’s OK.
As I get older I’m realizing that I read because I love what I learn from books—not because it means I’ll be viewed as intelligent. And this is a good place to be right now.