Thursday, October 21, 2010

Books, Books, Books, But Not A Moment To Read

This morning I spent some time considering walls. I’m looking for a spot for a new bookshelf. In my fantasy life, I’d have a library, but since I can’t kick any kids out of the house yet, there isn’t a room to spare. So a new bookshelf will have to do for now because the books are piling up. We have bookshelves in just about every room in our house, including two bathrooms (great place for a bookshelf, admit it!). My oldest son has an entire wall covered in bookshelves, and he has already filled it to overflowing.

I’m sure you’re imagining I’m a hoarder at this point. But I would argue that I don’t hoard anything (except maybe plants). I’m happy to get rid of things. Any book I won’t ever need again moves along out of my life. I keep the ones that still have things to teach me. The plethora of books on my shelves must mean I have much to learn.

There are just too many books in the world and I can’t seem to resist them. Many of the books on my shelves are on my “To be read” list. It does make me a little anxious when I see them piling up, but then I remind myself that “someday” I’ll have more time and when that day comes, I’ll have plenty of good books to read.

I hear you “modern” people telling me to get a kindle, but I have an aversion to screens and can’t get beyond the need to feel the book in my hand. I buy nearly all my books used and there are tales to be told simply in the way a book has been worn – are the pages bent, the spine stripped with creases, or my favorite- are there notes in the margins? A pristine condition used book is probably not a good book. I underline in my books constantly – phrases that astound me, profound thoughts, clever metaphors, useful information. I write my own comments too, so I appreciate the thoughts of the previous reader. Finding an inscription and a date in a book leaves me to wonder about the gift giver and the receiver – what did this book mean to their relationship? Nope, there is no history in an e-book. Even with all my green issues, I’m not ready to go there.

Kids books present other challenges. My kids go through books like socks – constantly leaving them lying about, losing them, finding them, loaning them to friends, and there never seem to be enough. We do frequent the library, but with the overdue fines I pay, sometimes it seems cheaper to buy them at the Goodwill, so I do. Books pile up at our house worse than the dirty laundry and our shelves are bursting with so many books it can be overwhelming. I accept some responsibility for this problem due to the fact that I can’t ever say no to a book and I double the kids' money if they’re spending it on books (paying half for any book they want to buy with their own money).

Years ago, I came upon one solution to the multitudes of books. We had so many the kids couldn’t possibly appreciate them all – at least not at the same time. So I bought 12 hard plastic magazine files and labeled each one with a month of the year. Then I sorted books in to the files, choosing themes for each month. Some were obvious, like Halloween books and scary books for October. August is water, beach, and ocean books and April is anything to do with the nature and the earth books. Outerspace books are in June because that’s a great time to stargaze and snow books are in January. Books about love fill the February file and March is stuffed with Easter books. Over the years, the kids have looked forward to pulling out the month’s file. After not seeing them for a year, the books seem new to them.

This has been a great system for us as it lightens the load on our book shelves and creates ‘christmas’ moments each month as we looked through the ‘new’ books. The December file was replaced with a big bin because we had too many Christmas books for the file to hold. I still enjoy pulling out the new file with my youngest son each month. Before we put the last month’s file away, we sort through it and pull out books that are “too young” for him.

Which brings me to the next dilemma – what do you do with books your don’t want? I certainly hope you don’t sit on them. Books have the potential to open minds and foster creativity – they need to be read. I try to stay on top of our books, cleaning out the shelves on a regular basis. Books that aren’t in the being-left-on-the-couch-or-in-the-car rotation, might be ready for new owners. For this, I have to confer mostly with the youngest child as he is generally the last to read our picture books.

After he gives them the nod, I sort the books in to keep (to be read to the grandchildren) and give away. There are lots of deserving places for outgrown books. We generally divide them up between the school, the preschool, friends with younger children, Goodwill, and the library book sale. I like to keep the books moving along. It seems a shame for any book to sit unread on a shelf.

My book club has another really nice way to pass along used books. We each pick out a book we’ve finished and wrap it up at Christmas time for our gift exchange. It’s a fun tradition and a great way to pass along our books and our holiday wishes.

That tradition led me to try something new. All year I saved books I’d enjoyed but didn’t need to keep, putting sticky notes with the name of the person I though would most enjoy the book on them and keeping them in a box in the closet. At Christmas I gave people in my life a stack of gently used books with a note that said I’d donated to a cause in their name in lieu of new books. It was a great way to give a thoughtful gift and make a helpful contribution.

If your books are piling up, maybe it’s time to sort through them. Keep the ones that you need, but remember there are lots of opportunities to release their power on the world. Books can inspire, challenge, teach, and change us. But they can’t do any of that collecting dust on a shelf.

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