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Archive for February 20th, 2005

Too Many Books

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Pas au-dela’s got a nice post, complete with one of my favorite passages from Orwell (the one where he’s basically work at the paper-bound early-century version of Blockbuster), about books, the "pleasant problem" of having "too many books to read.  And yet also the pressure always, bordering on compulsion, for just one more book…"

I have always been a book horder. It used to be more fun in the days before Amazon, when my wife and I would raid used book stores – our particular favorites were those that had tables and tables of remaindered academic books. (Lots of stores like this in Amherst-Northampton, where we went to college…) All this is ruined by the internet – there’s no need to stock up, to buy the one you don’t need now, but might down the road, and might never see again…

Getting to the point: somehow I’ve gotten to the point where I love throwing books out, and especially selling them on Amazon. Last month: more than $300 in sales. The pressure to buy just one more at some point turn into the pressure of "you have not read yet! when are you going to read?!?" and since then is been all disinvestment rather than acquisition. (Although, since the advent of Amazon Prime, I’ve been suffering from a bit of a resurgence in book buying. The perfect scam to hook someone like me – no shipping costs means it literally is like grabbing a book from a shelf, any hour of the day…)

Anyway, I’ve always been interesting in the psychology of hoarding vs. the psychology of disencumberment… I grew up in a household that didn’t read, in a town with no readers. The books that I bought back then were a great comfort to me, a sign of who I was – who I was becoming. (My wife and I in a sense came together out of this shared trait/affliction). Acquired an enormous library by age 18, spent every dollar I had on books. But as my confidence in myself grew I turned into an empty-bookcase man. Ideal would be to have the 100 books I actually need to use and no more.

(Remember one time when I was still very young, and I went out to visit my now-wife where she lived at the time. My dad gave me $200 to take with me on the trip – which was more money than I had ever had in my wallet to that date. Arrived in her city, and we promptly headed to a Borders where we spent the entire sum, and then some, on a big old stack. Good memory… One of the best $200 I ever spent…)

It’s sort of like when I was a kid, and you could determine the nouveau riches (or not quite riches) from the old money people by the home decor. The former stocked their places with junk, knickknacks, brickabrack. While the latter had barren living rooms, refrigerators with no magnets on them…

I was born into the former, but I’ve become very much the latter. For better or worse. Breathe the open-plan, the empty, the thing-less like its air. What a sellout, a class traitor….

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February 20, 2005 at 2:17 am

Posted in Books