Books are Heavy

In the wake of moving house, which included a ridiculous number of books that prompted even our movers to complain, the notion of a digital library becomes increasingly appealing. True, books are beautiful, tactile and each, in addition to its actual content, is a touchstone of memory and experience, but after slitting open dozens of cartons, I’m feeling less sentimental.

In addition, I never quite realized the degree to which arranging books can prove psychologically fraught. In our new house, my husband gave one of his bookshelves to my preschool-aged son. The resulting scarcity in shelf space has prompted a kind of Malthusian struggle; in this overpopulated world, which books should get pride of place? Should we (finally) attempt to organize by subject area? Should the Wilkie Collins novels that were the subject of my grad school papers be relegated to boxes in the basement? (!) Can we donate still more to Goodwill? We’ve already parted with a small library’s worth of volumes. Yes, we could get yet another bookshelf. Likely we will. But this is not a long term solution, especially when I find that I get stroppy when I suspect that I am culling more books than my husband, who as a publishing professional, an academic and a packrat is thrice-afflicted. So gentle readers, in houses where there is more than one bibliophile, where marriage/cohabitation also involves the union of two book collections, and assuming that you do not possess a soaring multi-floored library that Rachel hankered after earlier this month, what did you do? Must we digitize in the name of conjugal harmony, easier moves, and effortless organization? Is the virtual library the answer, not only for the Vatican Library (check out this New Yorker article) but my own, just slightly less palatial, house?

5 Responses to Books are Heavy

  1. Dara says:

    We also just moved our bookshelves from one room to another in order to prepare for baby’s arrival. We got rid of a small library of books as well.

    I’m really not sure…while I love having tons of books, the space issue does rear its ugly head quite often. I would never go all digital, but I’d be willing to say half my library will soon be that.

  2. I moved less than six months ago, and though I don’t have another bibliophile to share space with, I had many of the same thoughts as you. Another box (that I have to carry up and down stairs)? Where am I going to put all these? What’s going to happen next time I move? I did buy another bookshelf to ease matters temporarily, but it did make me want an e-reader all the more. Now that I have one, I will be much more picky about which books I buy in physical format from now on, and may end up culling some of my physical books before my next move, whenever that is. I’ll probably get rid of a lot of the public domain paperbacks, since I can get e-versions for free on my Kindle. It’s prompting a philosophical question for me: do I get rid of the books I didn’t care for as much? Usually I have to really hate a book to get rid of it, but there certainly is a portion of my bookshelf to which I am, at best, lukewarm.

  3. Eric Christopherson says:

    Don’t put Wilkie in the basement!

  4. Jessica says:

    It’s also worth noting that although my husband and I put all our music collection iTunes, we have not yet parted with a single CD. They all came with us. I guess that “virtual” libraries, whether of music or books, just seem too ephemeral. I feel as if I’m far more likely to accidentally wipe out my e-books than I am to say, set fire to my house. At least I hope that’s the case.

    And Wilkie didn’t go to the basement.

  5. Lance Parkin says:

    “I guess that “virtual” libraries, whether of music or books, just seem too ephemeral”

    I’ve got a Kindle for PC app on my laptop, and about ten books on there I keep meaning to get around to … The Beetle by Richard Marsh is one. That was the subject of a bet between him and Bram Stoker – The Beetle came out the same day as Dracula and Stoker bet he would sell more in the first year. And Stoker lost, badly. I’d really like to read that. And another beetle-book: Boxer, Beetle, which I got based on one of the most entertaining mini-interviews I’ve ever read http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/oct/30/guardian-first-book-award-ned-beauman. But when I’ve spent a day staring at a computer screen, I don’t feel like staring at a computer screen. If these were physical books, I’d have read them by now. I may end up getting them as physical books.

    I like books. I like unexpected discoveries, either on my shelves or in a bookshop. I like things like the foldout cover of Chabon’s Fountain City. I like the fact that the hardback first US edition copy of Name of the Rose I got from Goodwill turned out to be signed. I like knowing I’m halfway through a book. I like lending books to people. I’ve not seen an ebook that seems to have been prepared with the same care and attention to the reader that even a mass market paperback has – publishers just seem to upload a text file. A lot of the time it seems more like a cost-cutting exercise than an experience-enhancing one.

    I’m sure ebooks have advantages of their own, but I think a lot of the value and pleasure of a book is in the physicality of it. I could lose my library to save space? … well, I could also lose my kitchen and only eat at Arby’s.

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