Sometimes I think about moving house and it gives me the cold sweats. It’s not just that I am very happy where I am now, nor is it the general stress of moving, it’s a specific problem - it’s my books. I have over two thousand of them, some of them in boxes at my parents but many more of them here in my little impoverished-writer’s-garret. The shear faff of having to pack so many books, having to carry them down the stairs and into my new place, of having to carry them up makes me feel a little sick.
Why do I do it? Why saddle myself with so many physical objects? Especially books, some of which I may never read, and some of which I have read but may possibly never read again?
There’s been a tweet doing the rounds that says this;
Essentially, that I carry all these books about with me as a boast of my bookishness.
There are a couple of problems with this. The first is that no-one else really sees my piles of books. I live in a studio-flat in which there are two rooms; a bathroom and a bed/kitchen/library. I am a fairly sociable person but meet up in pubs and restaurants, in the seven years I’ve lived here there have been 4 visitors, it’s simply not a space set up to socialise. What’s more, I was utterly embarrassed when those people saw the books clogging up my space, they seemed a testament to my lack of control rather than any learning.
The only time I really do ‘show-off’ my books is when I use them as a background in my videos, but they are videos about books so it seems pretty ‘on brand’ and I imagine viewers having fun being nosy at my bookcases behind me.
Actually the article by Julian Baggini (linked here) is a lot more in-depth than the hot twitter takes give it credit for. It suggests that physical books also hold links to our identity, both in who we used to be and who we wish to be. I, for one, can see a book I read and remember where I was and the situation I was in as I was reading it. Books we have read and re-read many times seem a part of who we are and books we intend to read make claims of where we wish to go.
The article suggests that we should view books as we do other positive experiences, keep our memories of the books and pass them out into the world to do good for others. He even suggests that holding onto our books may be a way of hiding from new experiences, a way of cocooning.
Whether that is true or not, I shan’t be getting rid of my books. I still regret books I got rid of 20 years ago and although I sometimes decide a book isn’t keeping, it would hurt to give many away and I’d start filling those holes again. The fact is simply that I like a room full of books and I get a certain pleasure from my room full of my books. It may be a cocoon, but what else is a little garret for?