Tag Archives: Material Possessions

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!

 

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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?