Carolyn Steele Agosta
Too Many Books. Is that even possible?
Too Many Books? Is That Even Possible?
It’s not about the numbers.
But here are a few.
232 books. I currently own about 232 books, my reading collection (as opposed to cookbooks or scrapbooks, and not counting Kindle books.).
36 books. Those are my husband’s books. Some are fiction, some are business-related.
344 books. These are my father’s books. He collected books about antique cars, which were his hobby, his profession, and his passion. We still own them and display them on bookshelves, but I never really open them. My husband likes to keep them around. And Matt has probably another 75 car books himself, which he left behind at the office when he retired, for our daughter’s use.
12 books. These are children’s books, available to my grandchildren. My grandkids are ages 3, 2 and 1, so I’ve only just begun.
85 books. These are my scrapbooks and photo albums, mostly made by me, but also a couple made by my kids as gifts to me.
102 books. These are scrapbooks and photo albums put together by my parents and stored in a warehouse, but weighing on my mind.
Now, it’s no Downton Abbey library, but by most standards, that’s a lot of books. It takes a lot of space to display them. It’s actually the lowest number of books I’ve owned over the past twenty years or so. But as I say, it’s not about the numbers.
Here are some other numbers.
900 bud vases. My parents owned 900 bud vases, those narrow vases that used to be kept in luxury automobiles prior to WWII. They came in all types – clear cut glass, colored blown glass, hand-painted china. My mom was the main collector, but Dad was a co-conspirator.
1,600 cameras. Antique cameras that my dad collected. Everything from a cheap Brownie to various German models to huge cameras that would take stereopticon photos so people could get a 3-D effect looking at the photos through special viewers.
Thousands, literally thousands, of pieces of art glass, movie star books, antique furniture, farm implements, and other collectibles. Everything from a hog snout puller to a Victorian sofa with blue velvet upholstery.
My dad died in 1994 and my mom died in 2004, and just this past month, we have finally, finally managed to get rid of the last of their collectibles (at least, the ones we didn’t divvy up among ourselves and those scrapbooks in the warehouse).
Now, my parents spent most of their married lives counting the pennies and making them stretch, and it was only in the 1980’s that they had a little extra money and began collecting on a serious scale, but that’s a lot of stuff. My brother oversaw the big auctions after Mom moved to assisted living, and I worked on selling the glass collection from 2007 to 2019, and my sister Jacki finished off the job last month. But, man. Too much stuff.
So I’ve been giving books away.
It goes against my nature. I love books. I love to see shelves full of books. It makes me feel cozy. I guess the way a nature lover enjoys a full garden, or a sports fan enjoys memorabilia, or how some people collect shoes. It just makes me happy. But I’ve realized that it’s time to divest. So every month, for the past few years, I have given away some books. Some go to the library, some to Goodwill, some find homes among my friends and family.
Some are easy to pass on, some are not. All of them were, for a time, part of me.
And, of course, I can still read them, if I’m so inclined, on my Kindle. I haven’t actually lost their words. And I guess I could keep them if I really wanted to. Even if I don’t want to burden my kids with collectibles, books are not that difficult to give away. You box ’em up and move ’em out. At least, in theory.
But instead, I read them one last time. Give them a last hurrah, so to speak, and then pass them on. I’m not selling them – been down that path with my parents’ things and that way lies madness. Besides, I like the idea of giving them away, of them making their own way in life, finding new readers who chance on them at a library sale or maybe on E-bay. I hold them for a while, read their pages, and then release them to their fate. It makes me think of John Lennon’s lyrics:
Words are flowing out
Like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away Across the Universe
I will always have books in my home. Some new ones will arrive, be read, and pass on into the ether. My favorites will linger on the shelves until I’m no longer here, but they will be the cherished few instead of the many. It’s not like I’m planning on going anywhere any time soon, but I do understand inevitability. And maybe I just like the excuse of reading each book one last time. I’ve always given away books from time to time, usually to make room on the shelves, but now for the first time, the shelves have gaps. I estimate I’ve given away around 500 books over the past twenty years.
But, as I say, it’s not about the numbers.