|Some of the abandoned paperbacks.|
Each one of us has a unique relationship with books. We have so many anecdotes and stories to tell about the books we buy, collect, read, hoard and never read. Till, one day, something — I don’t know if it’s age, wisdom or common sense — propels us into doing what was once out of the question: Downsize our collection. Give away books we have been holding onto for god knows how long. Free up space, in cabinets, on shelves, up in the loft. And start again, one book at a time. Go back to the basics of reading.
At least, that was my plan.
I owned very few books in my youth, the years between 14 and 25 when I read the most number of books. In those days I read novels in just two or three sittings; sometimes in half a day and started on a new one by night. I borrowed my books from private circulating libraries, British Council Library and American Library. Then somewhere down the years, my career and family life took precedence. I stopped going to the libraries owing to the distance and lack of time, and instead started buying books, more than I could read. Not that anyone or anything stopped me from reading like I did before.
Over the next three decades, I accumulated so many books that several of my mysteries, thrillers and westerns followed me to every new place of work, where they sat quietly in office desks and cabinets, and seldom got a chance to tell me their stories. Then came the tech-induced comforts and distractions and my goal to read a certain number of books and short stories every month – in other words, reduce my TBR pile – went out the window.
About a year after the onset of the pandemic, I decided enough was enough. We were in the middle of home renovation when I took an inventory of my collection and removed nearly two hundred books, which I eventually gave away to anyone who was interested or sold them to footpath booksellers at throwaway rates. I’d no other choice. Some of these books remained unread for years. My logic was that if I hadn’t read them up to that point, I sure as hell wasn’t going to read them now. Fortunately, most of the books I weeded out were secondhand and didn’t cost a lot of money, though the parting did hurt for a while.
Now I have fewer than a hundred books, mostly paperbacks of some of my favourite authors and a few nonfiction; the latter comprising a dozen books on the craft of writing by seasoned writers like Stephen King, Francine Prose, Ray Bradbury, Anne Lamott, Benjamin Dreyer, Annie Dillard and Bill Bryson. They’re my writing companions – offering valuable lessons from their own experiences of storytelling, and helping me both as a reader and a writer.
In these past three years, I have been compensating the “loss” of my books by purchasing ebooks or downloading them from public domain and online libraries. I read these on my Kindle and Samsung tablet. Of course, I also buy paper books – no more than half a dozen a year – from Amazon as well as secondhand booksellers and book fairs, depending on what I find. I haven’t bought a book in a new bookstore in years.
The thing about de-cluttering books, to borrow a phrase from George Bernard Shaw in another context, is the illusion that it has taken place. No matter how many books we discard, there are always plenty around the place. I guess the only way to pare down our books is to read them as soon as we buy them.