Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Buy/Borrow, Keep/Purge: some book decisions

My husband and I, we prepare more and more for a move to a smaller home.   We don't know which smaller home, and we don't know when we'll move.  But we continue to slowly and carefully curate our belongings so that the things that get to make the move with us (some unknown day) will be those things we actually really, truly want to keep.

It's kind of hard to be emotionally attached to the fourth set of twin sheets or the nth towel in the towel stack, and so paring down the linen closet has been fairly easy, emotionally speaking.  But the further we get into the paring-of-possessions routine, the more personal the decisions become.

So, books

These can represent hopes and dreams: languages we started learning and imagine someday we'll return to and become fluent in.  Classic novels we will someday wend our ways through so we can say we did (War and Peace, I'm looking at you!).  Cooking techniques we'll master some day when we have time.  Decades come and decades go, but these hopes and dreams still sit between hard covers, lined up in rows, staring at us from their hard spines.

Books can grow dusty on our shelves while still having their hooks in us because of emotional ties to our pasts.   Miss Manner's Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior weighs down a portion of my own library for this very reason; ain't nobody gonna pry this book from its place in my permanent collection.

And books can be tributes to something we love.  My husband's recent sorting dilemma fell in this area.  The works of C.S. Lewis altered the course of his life, and they continue to have a profound influence on the way he approaches the world.  For that reason, we own at least one copy of every book Lewis has written, most of them with copious hand-written notes that my husband took while reading and re-reading these books.  We also own books that other people wrote about C.S. Lewis. 

In the sorting decisions that my husband has been making, he's decided that we're keeping the former and releasing the latter.   It was good to read these secondary sources, but keeping them isn't as important.  He doesn't need to go back to the biographies and analyses over and over -- and even if he changed his mind about that, he could find these books again relatively easily.   Keeping the words of Lewis himself close at hand is like having a friend in the house you can turn to for advice and solace.  But the books about the guy, not so much.

As always, one of the main difficulties with getting rid of something that's in the house already is the notion of "loss aversion" -- the idea that we value things more when we own them than when we don't.  So we've started focusing on the aspect of what we'll gain when these books are gone.  It's not just extra space or an easier move.   The truth is, we both love love love reading books -- and it turns out that reading books we don't already own is fantastically enjoyable.  When we go to the library and look for one book, but come home with three (or seven, or whatever), we've opened up realms of new worlds. 

Increasingly, as we pay attention to what we actually do instead of what we think we'll do, we realize that we get a heck of a lot of joy from The Library, whereas we get combinations of obligation, guilt, and comfort from our library.   So we're working on preserving the comfort books, while packing up and giving away the rest.

No comments:

Post a Comment