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.
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.