Confessions of a Book Abuser

3 Mar

I can hear them mocking me as I walk past.

“She only bought me because I was pretty.”

“She bought me because I have a good reputation.”

“She picked me because I won a prize.”

“She took me because I was cheap.”

These are my books, taunting me daily with the truth.

“She hasn’t even read any of us!” exclaims one.

“No, she just likes to have us on show,” puts in another.

“Well, I don’t mind. I’m better off on her shelves than in a box in the attic,” confesses a third.

“Good for you! But I’m adored by millions across the world and she hasn’t even read my blurb yet!” bursts out a fourth.

I admit it – I completely mistreat my books. Firstly, I buy them, giving them the (false) hope that they now have a caring new owner. I put them on my shelves and for the first week or so I look at them lovingly, giving them the (once again, false) impression that I will soon be taking them to the park, to bed or on holiday with me. I then leave them gathering dust for months, or years, and finally, realising that they are taking up too much space, give them away. I’m surprised that I haven’t been reported to the police yet, despite all these years of book-abuse.

I realised recently that the possession of so many unread books goes completely against my (or should I say, Dominique Loreau’s) Art of the Essential theory: keep a material possession only if you need it or love it.

At the moment, I own books because they look good on my shelves. They decorate my apartment and fill up empty space. They also do what all material possessions do – or, what we want our material possessions to do – they reflect some sort of trait in the owner. In the same way as people buy expensive watches to show to the world that they have a well-paid and important job, or a designer bag to show wealth, or an exclusive penthouse to show success, many people own large quantities of books to “prove” their intelligence.

Many of us put up hundreds of books on our shelves, in a visible place, to persuade ourselves and others that we are well-educated and well-cultured. After all, there’s not a more effective or quicker way of summarising our tastes, our beliefs and our persuasions than by a carefully-chosen book collection. Our visible book collections are a way of saying “I read and own (insert author/poet/philopher’s name), therefore I am (insert adjective)”.

In a lot of cases, a large book collection does not mean that its owner is a book-lover, but, on the contrary – a book-abuser. S/he uses books as mere tools to build up a reputation or a self-image, which is, in most cases, a false reflection of reality. For example, despite owning a few hundred books, I read little, and often feel that I have a very limited knowledge of literature.

In truth, knowledge and culture have nothing to do with the quantity of books we own and display. My grandparents, who have been avid readers their whole lives, only own about fifty books between them – they carry their favourite stories, ideas and quotes in their minds. What’s more, they keep the books that they do own in a closed cupboard; my grandma was shocked to hear that my own books stand in open shelves, where they “can gather dust and be damaged by sunlight”. To her, “books are for reading, not for displaying”.

I have decided that I shall not buy or borrow any books until I have read all those that are currently on my shelves. I shall keep a book only if I love it or need it for future reference, and I will use the library, not Amazon, whenever I am in need of inspiration and enlightenment. I shall use books for their original purpose – education, inspiration and entertainment – rather than the decorative purpose that they have been given.

My book-abusing days are over and my books shall gather dust no more!

 

***

Do you store unread or unnecessary books on your shelves?

Do you tend to keep books because they ‘look good’, even though they no longer serve you?

If you own very few books, what are you criteria for the ones you do choose to keep?

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11 Responses to “Confessions of a Book Abuser”

  1. Hoo Sze Ling 03/03/2012 at 19:00 #

    You’ve stirred up some nasty guilt!!!

    I don’t have that many books but I love them. I only buy those which I truly intend to read but these days, I don’t really get the time to finish them! I will start reflecting on my misbehaviour immediately and REPENT!!!

    • l0ve0utl0ud 08/03/2012 at 09:42 #

      Good on you! Just think about those poor sad books that are feeling so lonely on your shelves 😉 I love buying books, too, but like you, just don’t seem to have time to read them. Hopefully, this “book resolution” should change all of that!

  2. pattisj 04/03/2012 at 00:49 #

    My books would love a book shelf (as would I). I started donating mine. I have a few that I want (and plan) to read. I borrow a lot from the library. I keep them if I will use them (craft or instruction type, cookbooks, etc.) or read them again. Some were gifts.

    • l0ve0utl0ud 08/03/2012 at 09:41 #

      The books I keep after reading are usually ones that I would refer to again or novels that I would read again because I loved them so much. I believe all others deserve a new home – a second-hand bookshop, a library, a charity – rather than gathering dust on our shelves!

  3. Kathy 11/03/2012 at 20:14 #

    Wishing you much success in loving your books deeply…or at least discovering what each one whispered to you when you bought it. I just went through my shelves this weekend and prepared to toss at least 20 of them–some of them oldtimers from the 80’s. My daughter, however, said she wants to look at them before they go. So they’re going in her room until her next trip home. I always think that if I haven’t read a book in six months–there’s someone else in the Universe who is waiting for that book. So off to Goodwill it goes.

    • l0ve0utl0ud 06/04/2012 at 11:25 #

      “There’s someone else in the Universe who is waiting for that book” – this is a really great thought, and I agree – books are for sharing, so let’s not keep them gathering dust on our shelves!

  4. Charlotte 14/03/2012 at 13:31 #

    I have to say I agree with your granny 100%! I own (now) very few books and I only kept the ones that really struck a chord in me. Rest of them I sold or gave away to friends.
    I still have one I can’t get rid of because nobody wants to buy and It’s unreadable “Structural anthropology” by Levi-Strauss 😦

    I too used to be a book abuser, so I totally understand.

    Cheers!

    • l0ve0utl0ud 06/04/2012 at 11:26 #

      It’s great that you only keep books that you love. But, as you know, there will always be those books that we can’t get rid of, because, unfortunately, no-one else wants them either!

  5. Currie Rose 30/03/2012 at 18:41 #

    Love this! Since I don’t really own any books, I recently did buy a few (having too many of anything makes it hard to move around)… but I now have four. Two of which I bought the other day and I began to read one yesterday. I am so proud of myself. I hear you on them being good decorations and symbols of status. However, I too, want to read my books. I want to not only say I have the books, but I want to read them too. One of the books I bought was actually a book I didn’t even know the title of, however, the energy of the book was screaming my name…. “CURRIE!!! You must read me!!!!!” It’s a Deepak Chopra book and I think I found the answer within the first few pages to a medical problem I’ve been dealing with…. the irony was that I started to read it as I was sitting in the doctors office waiting for them to tell me that they had no idea what I had…. Coincidence? I think not… and the book is all about how there are no coincidences and how to harness the power of synchronicity. I’m so glad I picked it up and committed to reading it…. I wonder what other gems are in store for me within this book and the other. Great luck on reading your books and someday when I grow up, I want a book library like in the picture where I need a ladder to look at all my books!

    Happy Friday!
    Currie

    • l0ve0utl0ud 06/04/2012 at 11:29 #

      I love it when books come to me as if by a ‘coincidence’ – my favourite books have come to me in this way. Most of the time, we do very premeditated book-buying, for reasons not based on the pure fact that we think we will really love this book. As soon as I have finished with my books, I will go to the library and choose books that really tickle my fancy!

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