The other day a friend of mine was bragging that she never kept a book. Once she had read the last page of a novel or a nonfiction volume she would give it away or donate it, and in the case of an e-book she would delete it forever from her e-reader. That way, she claimed, she maintained her minimalist lifestyle and prevented the accumulation of clutter in her household. I politely refrained from passing out in her presence, as that could have been interpreted as a negative comment on her life choices, but as soon as I was alone I had the urge to pound my head against my desk, hard. We share some important core values, which is why we are friends, but it shocked and saddened me to hear her refer to books as “clutter.” What on God’s green earth was wrong with her?
When I was able to think about it calmly, the answer finally came to me—she sees books as disposable commodities, and I see them as friends. Neither one of us is wrong, and the difference in our philosophy of literary vehicles isn’t important enough to get between us. But it’s a radical mind shift for me to think of books as something disposable. Many upstanding, sane, decent folks read a book once and then discard it. It simply doesn’t make any sense to them to keep the physical or electronic item hanging around any longer. Once and done, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and they probably do have less clutter in their households because of it.
But I simply cannot see it that way. Reading a book once and then deleting it or giving it away feels to me like enjoying a ride at an amusement park once, and never riding it again. Or eating a delicious meal at a fantastic restaurant and never returning. Having the greatest first date you ever had, and then never returning their message asking for a second one. I just can’t consider books that way. It isn’t in my soul.
Of course, one can’t keep every physical book one reads. After several large-scale weeding projects on my own home library I have made sensible weeding an ongoing activity, not an end-point. But the decision is still hard. Will I ever want to read or consult this book again? Can I get another copy later on if I weed this one out and suddenly want to read it over? And sometimes the question is, am I ready to let this book go even though I may never open it again?
There are levels of book-love. Mine is outlined in those three critical questions above. How great is your own book-love? One question, three, twelve, none? To make room for the books you love, you must sort out the books you had a one-night stand with, or a passing fling. But don’t settle—never settle. Books you feel less than passionate about are probably best weeded out and thrown or given away. But those books that you well and truly love, that you keep coming back to, those books that have stood the test of time, keep them close to you forever.