If you dip into the blog, if you’ve ever dipped into this blog, however infrequently, that header must surely strike a chord with you. So you won’t be surprised when I say books, to me, are the very stuff of life: a basic essential which I would go without food and turn the heating off to fund. If I can’t read, I’m lost. Escaping into someone else’s fictional world for a while is knitted so firmly into my psychological DNA that I think I would wither away without a shelf of new books to look forward to.
For reasons I won’t bore you with, people who are unfamiliar with my way of life have been turning up at our house with far more than usual regularity over the past few months. And pretty well every one of them (there have been quite a few) have looked at the walls of books which line our living space and made some kind of comment. Usually it’s something along the lines of ‘My word, you have a lot of books. Have you read them all?’ Then, when I say yes, most of them, probably about eighty per cent (the rest are husband’s choice, and we don’t always have the same tastes), they express surprise, or ask when I find the time, or, less often, admit to a reading habit of their own, leaving me an opening to recommend something, or hand over a couple of the hundreds left over from my years in publishing. Daughter, who hasn’t lived full-time with us for nearly twenty years but doesn’t have enough book-space of her own, has contributed heavily to the collection, though most of hers are upstairs and haven’t attracted comment from our recent visitors. I tend not to mention several more book-walls up in the bedrooms.
One reason we own so many books is that we both read a lot, and I mean a lot: me more voraciously than husband, but he does his share.
Another reason is that one of the hats I wear is reviewer, and free review copies is a perk of that role – though I do spend actual money on books on a regular basis, and anyone who buys me gifts knows they’re the most acceptable thing they can offer.
The reason a lot of people find inexplicable, though, is that once I’ve taken ownership of a book, I find it almost impossible to part with it. This includes books I know I’ll never re-read (if I’m honest that’s probably most of the collection); books for review which I didn’t particularly enjoy (not many of those, but there are a few); and, perhaps most significantly in terms of the space they take up, the several hundred copies of leftover stock which still remain from when I was a publisher.
When we sold the company, I couldn’t bear to part with those, either. These days I mostly give them away at every opportunity, but back then it was hard to find enough willing recipients. It still gives me physical pain to remember the time when there were books in the distributor’s warehouse which were costing us hefty storage fees; we’d explored every possible option, and a few unlikely ones, for dispatching them to good homes, and succeeded in reducing the numbers somewhat but still not enough – and were forced to accept that some of them would simply have to be destroyed. Yes. I know. Sacrilege. It was heartbreaking. And it’s possibly the memory of that heartbreak which makes me so reluctant to consign any book at all to the charity bag or the secondhand shop.
So the collection grows, and the shelves fill up, and we run out of spare wall to put up new shelves. At the moment we’re clean out of space for the ones waiting to be read.
I won’t ask for suggestions about how to solve the problem. I’d probably ignore them.