The Book Keeper

 

Old Book

Recently, talented writer Linda Grant spoke in The Guardian about how she had to “kill her books” as she downsized to a new flat with much less room for bookcases. You can read the article here.

Although for very different reasons, my husband and I are downsizing in just over three weeks time, moving from a large five bedroom detatched house in rural Aberdeenshire to a small three bedroom end terrace in a tiny Argyllshire village. In our current house there are bookcases everywhere. The only rooms without books are the bathrooms. We have a shelf in the kitchen chock full of cookbooks, a bookcase of writing and social media books in my study, novels in the two living room bookcases and art and reference books in the dining room. My daughter’s room has a bookcase where the books are almost two deep and there are always a number of tomes beside the beds.

Many of these books are unread, bought with the best of intentions and the optimistic hope that the day would miraculously grow to contain an extra five or six hours. Others are read time and again, as familiar as old friends. Yet more have been read only once but have changed me in a deep and profound way and are as much part of me as my lungs and skin.

I have books on sign and symbols, the spy services, folklore, forensics, etiquette, slang, magic, science, photography, masons, cathedrals and much, much more. I have a mind like a butterfly, constantly flitting from one interest to another and my books reflect this. I also have hundreds of books on my kindle. I’ve even read some of them.

How could I possible choose which books to “kill”, to donate to charity, to disown?

My husband shakes his head at me. He doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand why I need to have so many books, why it’s so physically painful to consider getting rid of any of them. “How about this one,” he says. “You’ve read this.” He’s right, but like the Borg I have assimilated it into my literary collective and as all Trekkies know, resistance is futile. “These three?” I won them when I came third in a writing competition. “This one is just one of those Dan Brown type thingies. You won’t read that again!” But you gave it to me at Christmas five years ago. And so it goes on.

I am very lucky in that for all as he doesn’t understand why I need my books, he does understand that I DO need them, shrugs and tells me I will have the smallest bedroom to myself to keep all my books, daleks, SS. Enterprise NCC 1701s, tin toys, beanie teddies and pirate paraphernalia. And my desk, of course.

But all the packing, the taking the books down, dusting them and reminiscing has made me think about why I need to have the physical books around me. I am a proponent of ebooks and have long argued that the book was the words, the stories, the characters and plot, not the dead tree they inhabited.

When I was a wee girl in Glasgow, we didn’t have the money to buy a lot of books and my mother wouldn’t let me borrow from the library because “paper carries germs” – her words, not mine. Books were treasured, read time and again, pocket money saved to buy more. Do I hoard books now because of that? Maybe. It’s definitely one of the reasons. But a throwaway remark made by my other half finally got to the nub of my book problem.

“It’s almost as if you cling to them like an intellectual security blanket.”

Bingo.

I’ve documented elsewhere on this blog how I was bullied as a child and how low my self esteem was. Books were my only friends as a child and the only thing about myself I felt was of any value was my brain. My husband is right. I cling to my books as a way to show the world – and myself – that I have worth, a thinking, analytical brain which earns me my place in the world.

I am more comfortable in my skin now than I ever was. As saggy and wrinkly as it is now, it fits me more comfortably than at almost any other time of my life. But the child with buck teeth and a giant head who towered over her schoolmates is still in there and clinging to her old friends for all she’s worth.

Understanding the problem is the first step to solving it, they say. You’d think that I’d now be able to smile, shake my head at my silliness and consign my books to Barnado’s. Not a chance. Not while there is life in the friendless wee girl hiding under the bluster and bravado of the adult woman. If I’m moving, the books come too.

 

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30 Comments

  1. alberta
    May 19, 2014

    I understand perfectly:) now at the end of a long life of reading, possessed not just mine but my parents and grandparents am faced with what to do for the future – while I am willing to hang onto thousands of books what of the poor person destined to clear the house when I’m gone, can I bear to part with them before my end or should I be selfish and leave the task to others?

    How can we throw friends away, chuck out validation of whom we are – so difficult:)

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      I’m afraid I’m being selfish and passing the problem on :0/

  2. alberta
    May 19, 2014

    I understand perfectly:) now at the end of a long life of reading, possessed not just mine but my parents and grandparents am faced with what to do for the future – while I am willing to hang onto thousands of books what of the poor person destined to clear the house when I’m gone, can I bear to part with them before my end or should I be selfish and leave the task to others?

    How can we throw friends away, chuck out validation of whom we are – so difficult:)

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      I’m afraid I’m being selfish and passing the problem on :0/

  3. Anne Mackle
    May 19, 2014

    I feel your pain. We too are selling and downsizing. I will have no room for they many many books I have. I’ve been wondering to myself why I need so many when I could never read them all. I have far more on kindle too and yet I can’t pass a bookshop, can’t pass by books in a supermarket especially if they are discounted. I don’t know what I will do. Like you I was brought in in the east end of Glasgow,we didn’t have much money and although we did borrow library books I had to give them back,they weren’t mine,maybe this does say something about why we hoard books. Good luck with house move.

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Good luck to you too, Anne xx

  4. Anne Mackle
    May 19, 2014

    I feel your pain. We too are selling and downsizing. I will have no room for they many many books I have. I’ve been wondering to myself why I need so many when I could never read them all. I have far more on kindle too and yet I can’t pass a bookshop, can’t pass by books in a supermarket especially if they are discounted. I don’t know what I will do. Like you I was brought in in the east end of Glasgow,we didn’t have much money and although we did borrow library books I had to give them back,they weren’t mine,maybe this does say something about why we hoard books. Good luck with house move.

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Good luck to you too, Anne xx

  5. Jacqueline Pye
    May 19, 2014

    All the best for your house move, especially now you’ve resolved the book-decision thing. It’s so great that your husband accepts your bonding as part of you. Oddly I can (and do) dispense with a good proportion of the books I’ve read; maybe my choices don’t always touch me as deeply as yours do for you. But some will be kept forever. Just starting The Humans, mentioned at the end of your post, and wondering if it will turn out to be a keeper!

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Oh, I did enjoy The Humans! Sadly, my copy is on the Kindle – but maybe that’s a good thing!

  6. Jacqueline Pye
    May 19, 2014

    All the best for your house move, especially now you’ve resolved the book-decision thing. It’s so great that your husband accepts your bonding as part of you. Oddly I can (and do) dispense with a good proportion of the books I’ve read; maybe my choices don’t always touch me as deeply as yours do for you. But some will be kept forever. Just starting The Humans, mentioned at the end of your post, and wondering if it will turn out to be a keeper!

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Oh, I did enjoy The Humans! Sadly, my copy is on the Kindle – but maybe that’s a good thing!

  7. Ailsa Abraham
    May 19, 2014

    Oh yes! I can now part with books that are a “recent acquirement” but there are those that I read as a child, ones that were gifts, all the situations you cited where I hang onto them and growl, spit and curse at anyone who wants to part me from them. It may hark back to a time when my mother, with every good intention, took my books to the children’s ward in the local hospital. When I screamed the house down she made me feel selfish and guilty because “I had read them and I didn’t want those poor, sick children to have a read of them”. No, I didn’t. They were MINE!

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Of course they were yours! I totally understand that x

  8. Ailsa Abraham
    May 19, 2014

    Oh yes! I can now part with books that are a “recent acquirement” but there are those that I read as a child, ones that were gifts, all the situations you cited where I hang onto them and growl, spit and curse at anyone who wants to part me from them. It may hark back to a time when my mother, with every good intention, took my books to the children’s ward in the local hospital. When I screamed the house down she made me feel selfish and guilty because “I had read them and I didn’t want those poor, sick children to have a read of them”. No, I didn’t. They were MINE!

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Of course they were yours! I totally understand that x

  9. Margot Kinberg
    May 19, 2014

    Nettie – I wish you well with your move. And I completely understand your feelings about your books. They are such an important part of our lives aren’t they? There’s no way I would part with my books either…

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      It will be my daughter’s problem eventually – poor soul!

  10. Margot Kinberg
    May 19, 2014

    Nettie – I wish you well with your move. And I completely understand your feelings about your books. They are such an important part of our lives aren’t they? There’s no way I would part with my books either…

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      It will be my daughter’s problem eventually – poor soul!

  11. Andrea
    May 19, 2014

    I so know what you mean. Books are such good company. And it IS really hard to determine what to do with them, sometimes, once they’ve outlived their life with you. I’ve got boxes of books to donate to really meaningful places, but I’ve never taken them anywhere. It’s going to be so nice for you to have your own special room for all your books.

    All the best to you.

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Thank you so much, Andrea. And I secretly hope you keep your books x

  12. Andrea
    May 19, 2014

    I so know what you mean. Books are such good company. And it IS really hard to determine what to do with them, sometimes, once they’ve outlived their life with you. I’ve got boxes of books to donate to really meaningful places, but I’ve never taken them anywhere. It’s going to be so nice for you to have your own special room for all your books.

    All the best to you.

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Thank you so much, Andrea. And I secretly hope you keep your books x

  13. Lisa Shambrook
    May 19, 2014

    My compulsion is just as great. My children and I adore the Free Bookstore where we live, a warehouse full of books and you can take three at a time…on my last visit I returned to a childhood book I’ve been noticing everytime I go, this time daughter said “Take it Mum, just take it…you know you will in the end!” I did take it…but the thing is, I already have a copy at home, I just couldn’t bear to see it linger there week after week!
    Good luck with the move and don’t put your back out carrying books!

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Free bookstore! Why am I not living with you?

  14. Di Horsfield
    May 21, 2014

    I’ve shared on FB and left what I intended to be a comment but turned into a blog post of it’s own. I hope you don’t mind

  15. Di Horsfield
    May 21, 2014

    I’ve shared on FB and left what I intended to be a comment but turned into a blog post of it’s own. I hope you don’t mind

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Thank you, darling x

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