I tried counting my books once. I got to about a thousand, give or take, based on what was just on my shelves at that moment, not counting those in storage boxes from lack of space. Most of the time, I’m content with how many I have…or I want more because you can never have enough books, right?
Every once in a while, I get into one of those bizarre moods where I suddenly think, “I have too many books. I need to get rid of some!”
It’s usually driven more by appearances than anything. I see my brimming shelves with books stacked on top of books and in front of books, and the J part of my INFJ kicks in and desperately wants a single row of alphabetized, upright books per shelf.
Then I go through this sincere attempt of rooting through all of my books trying to choose which ones will leave. This week, I even opened up the boxed books, thinking that since I hadn’t seen or read them in years I’d probably be ready to pass them on to someone else.
Instead, I found myself sitting on the floor, surrounded by books, bemoaning the fact that this book or that book had been hidden away for so long. Instead of clearing out shelves, I was adding to them.
It’s not unusual that when I try to get rid of books, I think of every reason to keep them. Even books I hate often hold an important place for me. Some, or course, are easier. I’ve been developing the habit of getting rid of any fiction book I find badly written after I’m done reading it, especially if I’ve given up on trying to finish it at least twice.
Non-fiction books are much harder though, regardless of whether they were written well or whether I agree with the content.
I have nearly a whole bookshelf dedicated to various religious books, with at least a shelf and a half filled with books specifically related to my former cult’s doctrines and teachings. I keep the terrible, awful marriage books that blame wives for their husbands’ infidelity and encourage and condone sexual coercion in the marriage. I keep the terrible, illogical books that twist and contort to cover their own doctrinal contradictions. As much as I hate them, I need them because I find them useful to reference if I need to demonstrate some of the teachings I used to be under.
I do the same for politics, though not as religiously (har har). I have books on Communism, Anarchism, Liberalism, Conservativism, Capitalism, Feminism, etc. etc.
Some books I buy and read simply because they are historically significant or referenced in other important works. I might hate them. I might not even be able to fully read them! (I gave up on Kierkegaard as soon as I established that he took pages and pages to craft cleverly concealed circular arguments).
But I have them, and I familiarize myself with them because books are important. Reading a book is one of the better ways of exploring different perspectives, especially if I have my own strong feelings about one particular stance. Books are clean in that the author has usually put a lot of effort into researching and crafting just what they want to say in the way they want to say it to be as clear and (hopefully) concise as they can be, which means I’m often getting a more thorough and well-thought view of that perspective than I might otherwise get just conversing with someone who holds loosely to that viewpoint but hasn’t developed much insight into the nuts and bolts of their worldview.
Better yet, I can yell at the book all I want—I can even throw it across the room— and it will still be there for me to finish when I’m ready.
Reading a broad range of books deepens my understanding of where others are coming from, which in turn helps me to know how to discuss things with them in a manner that might help both of us grow. It also challenges me to deepen my own understanding of my own worldview so that I can adjust where it’s flawed or bolster the weaker points.
See why it’s so hard to clean out my shelves?!
I did eventually create a substantial pile of books I’m ready to pass on so that I can (of course) bring in new books that are more relevant to my life right now, but the process reminded me of how treasured even the most despised book on my shelf is to me—of the role that books have played in my own freedom and development. It also reminded me of how important access to books and information is to a free society.
At the end of September, bookstores and libraries will be celebrating banned book week. Throughout the month, many will have displays of books that have been banned, challenged, or censored in various parts of the U.S. or world. It’s an important time to take a look at the ways that governments and communities have attempted to police people’s thoughts.
Make a visit, take a look, let yourself be surprised/horrified/made uncomfortable at what has been censored in the past (no joke, the dictionary is on that list), and finally, pick something to read that you haven’t read before, maybe even something that challenges your perspective.
I definitely plan to do the same…especially since I’ve got some blank spaces on my shelves that need to be filled!