Books have always been important to me. Most of my life, I carried a book with me wherever I went. For longer trips, I carried several books, to avoid the risk of running out of things to read. When I had no money, my idea of wealth was to be able to buy any book I wanted. My idea of the perfect house started with a library, with big windows, a comfortable chair and walls of books with shelves so high that I’d need a ladder on wheels to be able to reach them all.
Over the years, as my wife and I moved from place to place, one of the first things we did to make the house a home, was set up shelves to surround ourselves with the books that made us happy.
At first the books were shelved alphabetically by author. Then it started to be alphabetically by author within each genre. Eventually, as wealth increased but time to read cruelly diminished, a separate “Not Yet Read” set of shelves started to appear giving me a physical measure of the gap between what I wanted to spend my time doing and what I was actually getting to do.
A few years ago, a change my younger self would never have anticipated occurred: I reached a point where my books started to feel like a burden. My ever-growing “Not Yet Read” file became not just a symbol of failure but a possible symptom of irrational addiction. Why did I continue to buy more to add to this pile? Wasn’t that just compulsive behaviour, similar to filling my closets with shoes I would never wear? My orignal test of wealth – being able to buy any book I wanted, had been passed. Now I faced the consequences: so many books that I could no longer shelve them all. I began to ask new questions: should I really keep every book I read? How big would that mountain be before I died? Did I want to live in its shadow?
I decided to make a change. I added a new classification for my books: “Read and Redistribute”. These are books that I give away after I’ve read them. My local recycling centre maintains bookshelves where you can leave the books you want to redistribute. People browse them constantly. Nothing stays on the shelves for long.
The next step was to start to use audiobooks. It did not dampen my addiction to buying books, over the past three years I’ve bought about ninety a year even though I usually only read sixty or so. They’re just so tempting. In fact, I’ve added to my predicament by entangling myself in series of books following characters like Kate Shugak or Jane Yellowrock or Lily Bard. The switch to audiobooks had two main benefits, beyond the fact that a well-read, well-written novel is a delight: they take up no physical space at all – I carry a year’s supply on a little iPod Shuffle; and I can “read” during the long car journeys that are a frequent but unwanted part of my life – so my Not Yet Read pile started to diminish.
Then I found that some books are hard to get on audio so I tried ebooks, using the Kindle app on my Windows 8 machine. I had low expectations but was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the reading experience – easy to navigate, easy on the eye, easy to carry.
I still love books but now the books I buy are usually hardbacks, often of books that are not on the best seller lists, especially short story anthologies.
The picture at the top of this post shows how I read now: mostly electronically with audiobooks and ebooks, but still with a foundation of printed books for harder to find authors or simply for books like “SMART” by Kim Slater that called to me like a puppy in a petshop that I cant’ leave behind.
I suspect my experience is not atypical. I’d like to hear if any of you have been through similar changes.