Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Book Diet

I have a serious problem with books.

I'm always popping into bookstores just to "browse." I'm just having a look - I say. I'm not going to buy anything - I promise.

I wander by shelves, and riffle through stacks, and flip through copies of books I've never heard of, and sometimes - this is embarrassing, but - I smell the pages. You may come across me in a used bookstore one day with my nose in a book, not because I'm reading, but because I'm sniffing paper. I was yearbook editor in high school and I had a really bad paper sniffing problem then too. The moment those freshly printed books came in, I'd crack open the box and take a big whiff. Oh man, the only thing that smells better than an old book is a box of shiny, new Jostens yearbooks. I swear to Hemingway, it smells like ink and victory.

I accumulate tomes at a prodigious rate. I read and read, but I always have stacks of books I haven't read yet and I just keep buying more. So they pile up. They filled case after case, and I finally had to start storing them in bins, which I'd stack in the closet one on top of the other until there was room for nothing else.

Yup, sounds about right. 
I always thought I had my problem under control though. After all, I'd read all these books one day, right? There would be time. It wasn't until I moved that I realized I needed an intervention.

Packing my books was a daunting task, so I kept putting it off. It wasn't until my friend Lisa came to visit that the books got boxed up. Lisa is awesome in so many ways, but one of the things she's amazing at is being an organized packer. The morning we tackled my shelves she said "this will take two hours tops." Time went by and at the two hour mark we'd barely gotten through half of one of my bookshelves. Incredulous, Lisa exclaimed "are they multiplying? Because it feels like they're multiplying!" I don't know how we did it, but we somehow managed to get every book packed over the course of a weekend. A lot of tape was used to fortify the heavier boxes, and the smaller ones were stacked almost six feet high.

I stack and wedge books wherever I can find space.
The packing of the books was challenging, but I had help. When it came time to unpack them all in my new home I tackled the project alone - determined to get rid of a few titles as I went. I ripped open box after box and lovingly took out each volume and placed it on the floor. I had to organize and decide which ones could go. The morning turned into afternoon, which faded into evening, and I was still unpacking, sorting, and shelving books. After an entire day, hands sore, scraps of cardboard every where, I held two books... two. Out of all the books I had just unpacked I was willing to part with only two.

I wanted to scream at myself - "they're just books!" But I couldn't part with more than those two. Every title meant something to me, every story was one I wanted to experience. My book choices painted a picture of who I was as a reader and, by extension, who I am as a person. Giving up the books was like giving up a part of myself.

I read this book every year at Christmas.
It's become a tradition for me
That's when I decided to put myself on a diet. The guidelines are as follows:
  • No books will be purchased for a whole year. (Borrowing is ok, trading is ok, the library is there for a reason, and I may accept books as gifts, but I'm not allowed to buy any until the year is up.)
  • After I finish a book I have to seriously ask myself if I will ever read it again. If I don't think I'll get around to reading it in the next ten years than the book will be passed on to someone else. 
  • I will not smell books in stores any more. I can look, but no sniffing! The smelling is what sometimes leads to the buying, so no more nose to paper contact. 
My boyfriend tries to help by finding books I want at the library.
(He also cooks. Bonus!) 
The half-year mark is approaching and so far my book diet is going well. I haven't purchased a single volume and I've gotten rid of a few titles. I've traded for a couple of new texts, and I've received some as gifts, but all in all I'm proud of my progress. Giving up a lifelong habit cold turkey is difficult, but when your habit has the potential to fall on you and bury you alive you've got to start taking it seriously.

Now... what are you reading? Anything new? Can I borrow it... does it smell nice?

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