Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing by Ruth Farmer: It’s not easy to put down a book

This is a confession.
I am a hoarder of the written word. I am surrounded, subsumed, obsessed by ideas, humor, thoughts, possibilities, fantasies, and happenings that are manifested in books and articles.
This obsession is very obvious in my personal surroundings: In my living room is a bookshelf with 127 books — history, religion, personal development. In the dining room, three bookshelves are home to approximately 160 nonfiction books, 120 books of poetry and 150 novels. There are five books on my coffee table (three personal development and two picture books) and three anthologies on an end table.
In my office and upstairs in various rooms are additional shelves and tables holding:
•  26 books about teaching and learning
•  52 books signed by authors
•  14 books on entrepreneurship (I am a fan of Seth Godin)
•  38 plays, most of them by Shakespeare
•  12 creative nonfiction
I will not trouble you by enumerating the printed essays and articles in folders that I — for some reason — believe are important for me to have in my possession.
I thought that I had cured myself of this malady. Several years ago, I moved from a home that I had lived in for 25 years. With the help of a friend I got rid lots of the stuff that accumulates when you live in one place for a long time. In the process, I donated or recycled hundreds of books.
While looking for a home to buy, I rented a house. In the process of moving from there to my current home, I recycled and gave away more books. And to make sure that books would stop proliferating in my living space, I decided to stop buying books.
This has not been easy. Browsing bookstores was a passion of mine, rivaled only by my passion of browsing the cookie aisle in supermarkets or just about any section of an office supply store. Unlike cookies and office supplies, which I can resist, I used to find it almost impossible to leave a bookstore without buying a book. I trolled Barnes and Noble and used bookstores, buying, buying, buying. Many of the books I even read, others I bought because I thought I should read them. I didn’t. I haven’t.
Years ago, I bought a Kindle so that I could travel with books without taking up luggage space. The Kindle fed my book obsession. As an Amazon Prime member, I was offered a free book every month. In addition, writers are eager to share ebook versions of their books for free, and I am eager to accept them. Right now, my Kindle has 176 books stored in it, most of them given to me. I have books on it that I have no reason to believe I will read. Ever.
You might ask, “Why don’t you remove them from your device?” My answer is, “Because I have not read them.”
You might also ask why I haven’t recycled or donated the hundreds of books on my shelves throughout my house that I have never read. Same answer.
I am certain there is a term for my syndrome. Perhaps I could have found out what that is, if I hadn’t given away my reverse dictionary. I might have looked up “obsessed with keeping books when there is no intention of reading them.”
This confirms my rationale for keeping a book: What if I need it? For something? Something important?
The books on my shelf are neatly arranged into categories, yet I am weighed down by their presence. Even the ebooks on my Kindle have weight. Why? Because I feel I should at least have read all of them. Or know why I have them.
Years ago using Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” I began organizing my house. I got rid of bags of clothes that I no longer wore, that no longer brought me joy. I thanked them, as instructed, and sent them on their way.
When providing assistance on how to get rid of books, Kondo writes, “I now keep my collection of books to about thirty volumes at any one time…” When I read that, I thought: How can anyone live like that?!
I realize that hoarding reading materials is not the same thing as loving to read. There is something else going on. Perhaps I should find a book that explains what this something else is. Meanwhile, I am thinking about figuring out how I’m going to plan to possibly get rid of a significant — yet to be determined — percentage of my books.
How is that for a commitment?
Ruth Farmer is a published essayist and poet. She directs the Goddard Graduate Institute in Plainfield, and is sole owner of Farmer Writing and Editing (ruthfarmer.com).

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