Paradigm Shift

I’m a reader, and I grew up in a family of readers, and even the side of the family that I didn’t know until I was an adult, all readers. I grew up surrounded by books, where the most expensive part of moving from one state to another was the books, because the furniture we had wasn’t really worth shipping, but the books were. So, the biggest walls in our house were always covered with books, which were alphabetized (for fiction) and categorized then alphabetized (non-fiction). Always, books were the number one thing in the house. In my adult years, however, we have often had the luxury of a room outside of the living room for the books. In San Francisco, Philadelphia, and our first place in Walnut Creek, we had two bedroom places, where one bedroom was the ‘office’, and that’s where the books would live. So you didn’t have to deal with the clutter and dust of books in your living room, and yet, there they were, safe and sound. But when we moved to our current place, Maya was old enough to need her own room, so the office disappeared. We have very few walls in our house that can handle a large book case, and the one that does, doesn’t do it well. It’s the wall next to the stairs, so part of it is the stairway, and thus at an angle. There is a light switch at a very inopportune spot, meaning a nice big bookshelf would block the light switch for the hallway, the kitchen, and the dining room. What to do? Well, what we did was to have a bookshelf custom made for us. Maya’s preschool teacher had a dad who enjoyed creating furniture like that, and he worked pretty cheap, so we hired him. He made a large bookshelf for the oddly shaped wall, and pulled the light switch forward, so it was at the front of the bookcase, not hiding behind it. This was a good solution, though even that wasn’t enough. There’s a closet in the bathroom upstairs that became the overflow closet for books, sometimes three deep, and nothing says clutter better than a closet in the bathroom three-deep in books. The custom bookshelf was made out of pretty cheap material, because we live in a condo and didn’t intend to live here forever. Why spend thousands on solid wood for a bookcase that is so custom to that one wall? Over the years, that bookshelf started to show its age and cheapness, and the fact that our dog loves to scratch her face by rubbing against it. So, when we decided to move, we gave it away to some bookish neighbors, packed up our books, put them into storage for the staging of our place, and looked forward to buying new bookshelves for our new place, where we would once again have an extra bedroom, a library. What a thing of beauty. Look at the pictures in this post, to see our unwieldy books before we packed them up so we could stage our house.  It’s the ‘before’ to today’s picture’s ‘after’.

But, as you all know, the housing market has tanked, and though now is an awesome time to buy, with interest rates low, and housing prices falling, it’s a sucky time to sell, with so many foreclosures on the market, and buyers wanting to wait and see if prices will fall further. We had our place on the market for 7 months, and in all of that time, only one crappy offer. Not even a good offer, just a crappy one, that wouldn’t afford us enough money to be able to move. So, after thinking long and hard, we decided to stay here. But, something had to change regarding the books. We had been unhappy with the situation before we left…unhappy because our books were cluttered and dust covered and taking up way too much room. So, what to do? Seemed to us, it was time for a paradigm shift. Time to be brutal, look at our books and decide, really, which ones were we likely to read again, and which ones would we not read again? Which ones, if we really wanted to read them, could we count on being available at the library? A bloggy friend of mine, Hello Melissa!, told me once that her theory is that if you love a book, you should set it free, so someone else can love it as well. Wow. Now, here’s where I have a confession. Growing up, I thought people who didn’t have entire walls dedicated to books were non-readers, and I thought non-readers weren’t very smart. Yes, I was prejudiced. Most of my smart friends were big readers, and had lots of books in their houses, and most of my not-as-smart friends, not so much with the reading and the books. So I really didn’t have a reason to change my theory. But then, I grew up, and got to know a larger variety of people, and I realized two things. Some people, some smart people, don’t like to read. Shhh. I know. It’s true though! And then, I also found out that some people read their books, and then give them away! I know! Some of them buy the books, and then donate them to someone who might want to read them, and some people get to know their local library pretty darned well. Wow. So, they can read the books, and not have the clutter? Interesting. But, what if they want to read a phrase from a book, a smattering part that’s nagging them in the back of their head, and they don’t have the book in their house? It’s not important enough to go to the library for, but gosh, wouldn’t that drive one nuts? Maybe, just maybe, not everyone has this compulsion. The compulsion where they find that a phrase is running around in their head, and they need to read it, to make sure they have it just right, or to read the phrases that surround it, that section of a book or a story.

Which is where we come to the present, the time where we went to Ikea, and bought a very small bookshelf, and decided that the only books we were going to keep would have to fit on that damned bookshelf. A 6′ by 3′ bookshelf. Oh, it gave me a stomach ache in the store, looking at it, thinking, ‘Was this what I meant, when I said we needed a paradigm shift in our thinking of books? Could I have been thinking to reduce my book collection to half of this?’ I don’t think so, not at all. But really, it was what I had been thinking. I had been thinking of getting rid of all of the books that I didn’t need to have, and setting them free. Sigh. So, after spending some fun fun time assembling the bookshelf, we got brutal, and went through our books. We whittled and whittled, and here we have the final product. I confess, I think it was harder on Ted than me for two reasons. First, a lot of his books are scholarly books that he had intended to use for teaching, and they were quite expensive when he bought them. So to get rid of expensive things is always harder than inexpensive things, and to get rid of books that you had hoped to use for your career kind of reminds you that your career doesn’t seem to be going in the direction you had hoped. Ouch. Second, I cheated. A lot of my books are paperbacks, so I doubled up. I have my books two deep. This may drive me nuts when it comes time to find one of them, but somehow I suspect with so few books to wade through, it won’t be much of an issue. This morning, I got up to try to alphabetize my fiction, and I realized I wasn’t up to the job. Didn’t want the books to be alpha, if some of them were going to be behind the others. This may seem like the perfect reason to alpha them, but it wasn’t meshing with me. So I didn’t. I sorted by what books was I more likely to want to read often. Which books would I want Maya to see up front, in case she is bored and decides to start looking at my shelf for options. (I was about her age when I discovered my mom had some books I was interested in reading). So, the Ray Bradbury stayed up front, because I think she would really like that a lot. The Dick Francis (I got rid of a LOT of those, but I did keep my favorites) went in the back, and they’re all together and I know where they are and I can find them. Then there are the books that I kept because I need to have them, but no, I probably won’t read them. The Animal World of Thornton Burgess, which is the only book that I still have from my very young childhood, and was given to me by one of my mom’s best friends. Justin Morgan Had a Horse, also given to me as a child, from one of my mom’s best friends, a friend that I knew and loved dearly. I may never read these books again, and Maya is too old for the Burgess, and not into horses for the Morgan, so I’m not saving them for her. I have a whole new shelf just devoted to books I haven’t yet read, and want to. That should be interesting, because some of those can go free after I finish them, while others will probably find a way to stay behind. But there’s not much room, so at some point soon, the criteria will have to be, “keep one, get rid of one”. That’s a huge change for me.

This entry was posted in Books.

20 thoughts on “Paradigm Shift

  1. “if you love a book, you should set it free, so someone else can love it as well”

    I agree with the above statement, but I am such a selfish person when it comes to my books. Literature is one of my first loves. My books are one of the only material things that I’m attached to. My books and photos. Other than that, the only things I value more in my house are my Hubby and our babies (canine and felines).

    I have shared/passed along some of my favourite books to friends in the past, but as much as I wanted to share the books, I did so a little bit begrudgingly. LOL! Horrible!

    Excellent post, J! On an entirely different topic, a friend of mine and I were having a debate on the topic of altruism. I was curious as to what you think about this. Does altruism exist? Can pure altruism really exist? I’ll probably share my opinion in a post after the holidays. Apparently, my blog readers aren’t very interested in blog posts of that nature! LOL!

  2. I too am from a family of book people. My dad had a large music book library, and my mom is a bookworm. I have 2 subjects that I collect upon, not to mention my hobby on fashion and recently, web blog stuff… so I have a ton of books as well.

    Moving across the continent really really forced me to throw out and go through books from MUST HAVE to books I like… I eventually put together master list, and then by subject, etc. It helps not just organizing, but really getting to know your favorite subjects and such.

    And then I started noticing some books have market values and I started selling them on ebay. If you think your books are in great condition and popular…

    I know, I’ve been called the ebay queen couple of times. But I swear by it!

  3. You are the bravest person I’ve ever known.

    I couldn’t do that in a million years…not even if I cheated. I couldn’t pare the pile down to two shelves! Amazing.

  4. Have you heard of BookCrossing?

    It’s a site that goes completely with the “If you love a book, you should set it free” theory, but it’s FUN to do so! You put a special label in your book, put it somewhere it can be found in public, then log onto the site and make an entry about where you left it. Whoever finds it can then make an entry about where they left it when they were done.

    There have been books that have traveled all over the world. I would love to find one.

  5. Wow J!
    Quite honestly, I didn’t think you and Ted would be able to do it. Your love of your books was so great that I didn’t know if your desire for the uncluttering was enough to make this change.
    Color me VERY impressed! Especially with the expensive books! That is HARD!

    So… how’s that bathroom closet?

  6. I’ve had to make that my policy, too, even though I hoarded my favorite books in old boxes under beds and in garages for years. Finally, at our last yard sale, I sold them all. People were THRILLED at my collection. Now, we have a bigger space and I have room for some books, but you know what? I don’t really miss them! I love giving them away as soon as I’m done with them. They don’t weigh me down that way.
    Congrats on your paradigm shift!

  7. Is that “The Mists of Avalon” I spy. Now there is a book that stays on the shelf. I’ve got mine, too. It is a heartbreaking thing to have to pare down. It can be done but it is always very traumatic for me. I am of the entire wall of bookshelves type. It is my goal in life to have an entire wall…so the paring down becomes less necessary.

  8. Kudos to you both!

    I am someone who does not have a lot of space, thus, not a lot of books. I am very familiar with my local library, and find that if I like a book that much that I want to reread it, then perhaps that is one I will buy.

  9. I know how painful this can be. In 2000 I had a mega rummage sale and sold all of my books(way too fricken cheap to a book dealer). I’ve had heartaches over it ever since. But it does get better. And I know someone, somewhere is loving one of my old loves.

    FYI…Unrelaxed Dad is very bookish and does the same thing Hello Melissa does. Excellent post.

  10. I’m back.
    I told your book experience to Eric last night and he said he too had that book=smart prejudiced! In fact he says he still fights it and some of the books he keeps is so people see that he has them (of course he has also read them and would love to discuss them, so its not all a put on). Who knew!

  11. Mmmm…well…my take on it is if you love a book you must:

    A)LOAN it to a friend
    B)Tell that friend where to buy it
    C)Direct that friend to a library where she/he can check it out.
    D) Buy it for that friend for a birthday gift.

    But…I cannot set it free forever unless I didn’t really like it in the first place. And I still hold with the idea that non-readers are…um…not a lot like me. People without books in their houses make me feel restless. Maybe that’s wrong…but that’s how I feel.

  12. Ugh. This post made me take a look around my house and inspect our bookshelves. Hmmmmm. We also have books in every nook and cranny of our house and I’ve probably scarred my kis for life b/c my favorite saying is: NEVER throw away a book.

    After reading your post, I may have to come up with a new saying…..

    If I feel brave later, I’ll have to post pictures of our mess.

    Have a great Christmas!

  13. keep singing sting… “free free… set them free” as you purge.

    i’m a fine one to talk. i get rid of MY books, but the other 3 people in my family keep them all. my home is still littered with books.

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