Why moving house is a self-inflicted pain in the rear

OK, enough about Legos for now. Here’s a post about books instead.

I have lots of books. Not as many as some people, more than others. Right now, I’m up to about 30 shelf-feet of books, give or take, in my apartment, with probably around the same quantity in boxes in my dad’s and stepmother’s attic.

Some of the books are from my days as a student. That’s about fifteen shelf-feet right there. I studied history in undergrad, then religious studies in grad school. In some academic disciplines, a given class will rely on one huge (and expensive) brick of a textbook. But in others, what you have instead are ten or twelve shorter books, usually paperbacks, which individually aren’t that expensive but which add up to about the same cost as the brick. The idea is that you’re not just learning the information or techniques or whatever; you’re also looking at how a bunch of different people have studied colonial New England or whatever it is–what sources they’ve used, what arguments they’ve constructed, and so on–to get an idea of what approaches are possible and what does and doesn’t work about each one. It’s a decent system, really, but after a few classes it eats up a lot of shelf space. I’ve read some and skimmed others, but I can’t really get rid of all of them yet, because I might go back to school eventually and I might want some of them then. And it doesn’t help that most of them are sufficiently esoteric that neither non-university libraries nor non-university bookstores will ever have them available.

Other books are from book tables at events of one sort or another, mostly retreats put on by the Christian fellowship I was part of in college. These weren’t assigned or anything; mostly they just looked appealing for one reason or another. There are several on theology, a few on practice, a handful on social issues, and some on personal spirituality. About half of them I’ve read, and the other half I mean to read. A few were gifts, and those I feel like I have to read before I can do anything else with them, but that doesn’t mean I read them with any particular sense of hurry. I’m trying to be better about making myself actually take these books off the shelf and read them. Just finished one this week, in fact.

The next shelf down from those is mostly Bibles, devotional guides, Bible-study guides, a pair of Qur’ans, poems and other classic spiritual texts from one tradition or another, and a couple of works on Biblical archaeology and Biblical exegesis. (I may be Christian, but there’s no reason I can’t at least read important texts from other traditions. Plus, Rumi is kinda the man when it comes to religious poetry.)

Below that there’s a shelf of general reference books, like dictionaries in English and German and French and Russian and Latin (of which languages I have any real competency in only one), a couple books of trivia, a book on music theory, a field guide to birds, a guidebook I bought when I moved to my current city, things like that. On my desk, within reach, are a few reference books about writing, one about computers, and a few full of dumb jokes. (If you ever meet me in person, ask about the chicken in my wallet.)

There’s also a shelf of fiction, mostly nineteenth-century novels or recent sci-fi, but there’s also a little poetry there. Finally there’s a shelf with a few children’s books and a whole bunch of book collections of comic strips. There’d be two shelves of those, but last time I moved I tried mailing my books to myself and the Postal Service lost the box with all the Calvin and Hobbes books in it. (I’ve since learned that if you want to mail stuff to yourself like that, you should put a piece of paper with the destination address on it inside the box as well as on the outside, in case the outside label gets lost, which is what happened to me.)

Anyway, where I was going with all this is that I want to pare down my book collection but I’m not very good at letting go of books. A few, maybe two shelf-feet or so, I can accept that I’m pretty much never going to read or re-read or need to have handy for any reason. I could probably double or triple that number if I were willing to be ruthless with myself and get rid of all the books I’ll actually never read, but so help me I just can’t do it.

So, yeah, I guess that’s my confession for the day. Does anyone else have this problem, or is it just me?


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