Giving up books

Owning them, not reading them (got your attention, didn’t I)! Over the last 5 years, I seem to be adopting the minimalist philosophy of my grandmother and giving away more and more things. I feel happiest when my home spaces are spare and beautiful, and uncluttered with stuff. I like to have what I need or most treasure and no more than that. Anything I own should have a use, or personal meaning. Nearly everything I have given away has been shed without parting remorse, but of all of those things, books have been the hardest.

I once had rooms and rooms full of books – wall-to-wall bookshelves filling a three-story house. Organized by genre, period, country… I loved my books. I read and reread them if I had time, and lent them to others. Bookstores were like hardware stores for guys – especially since I had almost always read most anything that wasn’t new, it was easy to drop $100-200 in a visit – and finish those up in a couple of weeks. And into the bookshelves they went, filling up every last empty space. I really liked being able to pick out just the right book for a friend or family member that they might never have heard of but would really enjoy reading, and with my system of organization, knew just where to find it. I couldn’t imagine not having these old friends (the books) in my life and having access to them whenever I wanted.

Everytime I moved, a process of winnowing occurred to clear out all the not-so-great books and make some space (including the first time my husband and I merged our book collections). But the big changes happened when I moved out on my own and started living in smaller and smaller places – by choice, which was part of that instinct to use no more than I need. The first house was still a bit too big, but had the advantage of allowing me to retain about half my books. The big break came when I sold that house to move to Olympia – I did not know how big my new house would be, but I knew it would be smaller. And my philosophy about stuff had undergone a radical change – the real test would be whether I could give up my books.

As synchronicity would have it, a girlfriend was building a business on eBay selling books, and I determined to give her ALL of my books, holding back only what I needed for work, travel, or birding and a very few books that it seemed likely I would read within a year and/or give to someone else. I did that, but it hasn’t been easy. I miss the books I once had at my fingertips, the enjoyment of lending, and once in a while give into the guilty pleasure of a bookstore. They’re out of my garage now, and off to new owners – and I am saving the cost of buying books and the paper and production energy that goes into making them. Especially since we usually read them once and stick them on a bookshelf – I had already determined that any book I do buy will be “liberated” and given to a new owner or left in a public space for someone else to find and read.

kindle All in all though, it’s been an uneasy thing, not wholly comfortable. Add to that the lack of good newspapers in my new city – I do get a lot of info from NPR and the internet, but often I miss reading a daily newspaper – though not the volumes of useless paper it generates, which is one reason I stopped taking it. Enter the Kindle 2.0 – I’ve been a tad skeptical about this as it is pretty new technology, but by all accounts, the 2.0 is a vastly improved version, and just may represent the future of reading, especially for the generation that’s used to doing its reading on a computer screen already.

Especially with all the traveling I do, I can just load the books I want to have with me onto my Kindle, and not have to figure out how much I want to lug around in my bags. I can have thousands of books in there, and can download them freely and easily from anywhere, with no more difficulty than making cell phone call. They cost less than real books, and can still be shared. And it will beam me my daily newspaper (or any number of weekly or monthly magazines) before I get up in the morning, saving any amount of paper. If only my actual computer screens were as readable as a Kindle’s is, I’d actually be able to use my laptop on a tropical beach, like all the ads show ;D

So, I am really, truly making the break. I had already started getting most of my news online, now I’ll just get it more efficiently and less wastefully. And I can spend a month in a foreign country and truly have all the books I need to read, packed into about 10 oz (and only 1/3 inch thick). This is a huge breakthrough for me in not buying, owning, and keeping stuff – though I do love books still, and will probably always have a few feel-good volumes around. And in honor of that, I have treated myself to a few extra accessories, including a Monet waterlilies protective skin and a grey/black suede book cover (which can also stand the Kindle up while you’re reading it). I’m guessing if this can lure even me away from books, it is not just another gadget, but one of those things that may revolutionize how we do things.


9 thoughts on “Giving up books

  1. I know what you mean Teresa. I’ve been starting to seek out books that are available in Microsoft Reader or MobiPocket Reader format so I can read them on my Pocket PC. I am also able to get the NY Times online via Avantgo. As a result I’ve been feeling an itch to start weeding through books and winnow out those that would benefit from a new home. I’m still in the baby stages right now but I guess I have to start somewhere.

    Thanks for sharing your journey. ;D

  2. Joanna says:

    Where did you buy the Monet skin and cover? I could use something like that. I agree – I am going bookless too, ever since I bought my Kindle. I did a heavy-duty winnowing of my books last year before we moved, but I am thinking it might be time to winnow again. Still too many books I have not opened since I moved.

    It’s mostly novels though that I’m reading on my Kindle. I’m still buying non-fiction (like your Tarot book) as “real” books . . . although the idea of searching on a keyword in a Tarot book instead of flipping through the index is intriguing.

  3. You can find the skins on – I just realized I will have to return mine since it’s for the Kindle 1, and they’re a different shape from the Kindle 2 – but it should work for yours – plus there are tons of other designs to choose from. What they don’t tell you in the pictures that’s a little confusing is that the grey-tone extension of the skin that’s shown covering the screen (to complete the design) is not actually part of the skin but is a screen-saver you can get to go with it :) so there won’t be something covering your screen!

  4. Joanna says:

    Oh excellent – time to go cyber-shopping!

  5. gailwood says:

    I can really relate. I’m a librarian with an additional degree in literature. Dangerous combination. I’m winnowing out, too, in preparation for retirement. I’m keeping only what I know I’ll read again and can’t get at a library or through inter-library loan. So far, this hasn’t applied to tarot decks….but it may.

    I love my Kindle and covet the second generation. It is a wonderful technology for readers. I highly recommend e-book readers.

    That’s about books. As a quilter, I have the same challenge when it comes to quilting.

    Great post!!!!!!!

  6. Soulwright says:

    Every year when we look back over our finances, we realize that we spend more money on books than clothes – usually about four times as much… AND we have something called the Green Valley Book Fair where new books, with remainder marks, can be had for a few dollars each.

    At the height of our book experience – we had three rooms with floor to ceiling books, and a root cellar and attic full of books that wouldn’t fit on the shelves.

    About four years ago, I began gifting them, and then found a place that will ship them over seas if they don’t sell here.

    Sometimes I feel really naked and lonely… when I see those empty spots… but for the most part – it is totally liberating to know that all our books fit in one small library (and a few book shelves scattered throughout the house.

    I find it fascinating how trends like this become part of our way of being in the world and then I discover that lots of us are doing the same thing. I find that hopeful.

  7. Traci says:

    Although I admire you for it – I couldn’t do it.

    There is something about turning the pages of a book – something so incredibly grounded in the most textile of human experience – something so magical… when I handle a book I feel tied to the history of the written word itself.

    As I read to my son, night after night…he pours over the pages, gets them sticky, creases the pages – he ponders, he points, he askes questions – then he often falls asleep with the book. As I did, so many, many years ago. He LOVES books. I like to believe that I am cultivating in him – a wonder and passion for learning, based partly on that textile experience.

    Technology is wonderful – but to use Tarot for example…a new deck can be wonderful on the sceen, it can be incredibly illuminating to get an on-line reading with a deck you admire – but to handle the cards yourself? Priceless.

    I just couldn’t do it: not all out the way you are attempting. We do use the library – rather than buy new. But I want for him to be free to really USE the book.
    As a mother to a toddler – there is a mentality the upcoming kids have of entitlement. Technology indirectly contributes to that. Some kids in my son’s pre-school class don’t even look at books except at school. Those same kids excel with the computer excercises the teachers have them do…especially the games. I made a decision NOT to have my son on the computer – to encourage him to use his books (and hard – he can ruin them for all I care, so long as he ruins them by looking at them) and to use blocks for entertainment.

    I don’t know. I guess the concept of Kindle frightens me. I’m all for saving the trees – but something on a computer just can not replace the feel of a book in your hands. I will always have books and lots of them. :)

    Just my 2 cents..

  8. Traci, it may make you feel better that I have a whole category of books that aren’t allowed to be replaced :D These include tarot books, astrology books, travel books, birding books, coffee table books, references for work… you get the idea :) It is basically just the fiction, non-fiction, and newspapers/magazines I am working on eliminating, and even then I have a few notable exceptions – like books I bought recently that I know I will want to give to someone, 100-year-old books that have been in our family for generations, etc. Still, that cuts down on entire rooms full of books!! And reduces my expenses and paper use in the future.

  9. Lisa Hunt says:

    I have always admired minimalism and the ability to just be without being weighed down by materialism…but with that said, I could never get rid of my books (including the Complete Tarot Reader :) ). There is something about holding a real book that I don’t think technology will ever be able to capture. I like being able to go into my library and be in the presence of what I see as old friends rather than space-using clutter. I love to feel the pages, smell the binding and look at them anytime without being reliant on an electronic device. But then again, the majority of my collection is comprised of reference material, art books and collectibles that hold an intrinsic value with their repeated usage. Novels and transient reads are usually not on my shopping list these days for the very reasons you stated. I certainly hope that people will continue to enjoy real books. They are something that have lasted through many technological revolutions and I hope they can survive as tangible treasures through the current changes as well.

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