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Goodbye Books

D and I are getting rid of our books. Not all of our books, but as many as we possibly can. Some are going on Amazon to be sold, others are going to the charity shop. Our house has become a production line – inspect bookshelf for books to go, search on Amazon to see if they’re worth anything, list on Amazon or put in box for charity shop. Sell book. Post.

This isn’t the first time we’ve undertaken a grand unembookening. In 2007, an expulsion of books was precipitated by D and I moving in together. We had doubles of books and so great was our faith that we wouldn’t split up that we decided to sell all duplicates.

This time there are a few reasons for getting rid of all of our books:

  •  we’re going travelling for a year and want to minimise storage costs
  • we’re sick of having to pack up a million books every time we move house (about once ever two years)
  • we both have iPads and all our books live on those

The final point is probably the most pertinent – that we both have iPads. D likes to say that when he was young he would have killed for a device that held all of his books. When I was young I wanted a book-lined office that smelled of pages and leather. However, in the realisation of D’s dream, my dream has become impractical. Or maybe it’s been replaced by a dream of being more agile, of being able to go anywhere unencumbered by the history of literature and philosophy.

Today D prepared another box of books to take to the charity shop. We have two full boxes in our hallway which I went through. It made me feel immensely sad, not so much because I will miss any of the individual books, but because I feel like we’re saying goodbye to what they represent. Each book came from somewhere, was picked up and chosen, either by one of us or by a friend who gave it as a gift. Each book is a memory of something, of time spent in a second hand bookshop amongst the smell of musty books, of courses taken at University in philosophy and literature, of a summer spent only reading books written by Russians, of a holiday in California, of time we had to spend apart. I am a persistent annotator (which D hates) so books contain my cringeworthy annotations and doodles from when I was a student.

Many of the books are gifts that we gave to each other; the traditional Christmas book, for example. An Amazon voucher will never be able to replace the Christmas book, which is carefully chosen by one person for the other, not just a gift but an invitation into another world. I’m sad to see them go but I doubt we’ll give them any more, a Christmas book feels like an anachronism, a forced gesture. Why repeat something simply because it had meaning in the past, when all of its meaning has gone?

I did keep the first book that D gave me when we got together – Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled.

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We aren’t getting rid of 100% of our books. Some have to be kept. 1st editions aren’t going anywhere – D has spent years collecting 1st editions of Samuel Beckett and my Hubert Selby Jnr collection is a permanent fixture in our lives. Also not going is D’s collection of Willard Price books, which he just completed a few months ago (Cannibal Adventure arrived in the post to much joy).

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Up for debate are the hundred or so vintage science fiction books that aren’t worth anything but that represent days spent rifling through second hand bookshops. Maybe are hesitant because if we don’t have a purpose for going into a second hand bookshop that we just won’t go in any more.

We can’t get rid of any art books because art books just don’t work on the Kindle app. Digital versions don’t have the quality of their print counterparts. Also, many of the books D needs don’t have digital versions. Since his research is in aesthetics, this means we’re lumbered with hundreds of art books. They’re off, however, to his office, where they can take up space on his shelves instead of taking up space in our house.

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So goodbye books. I’m very sad to see you go. Sadder now as you leave than when you are gone. Mostly sad because of the memories that are attached to each of you. Sad because I loved you, spent years of my life searching for you, and now I don’t need you any more. Sad because you are unnecessary but you smell so good. Sad because of all of the millions of books in the world that are going the same way, all of the other households tossing away their books. Sad because when I’m in my most apocalyptic, doom and gloom, frame of mind I can’t help thinking that one day we might need you and you won’t be around any more.

10 Comments

  1. Mmmmm, you’re making me feel guilty. But my excuse is that I don’t (yet) have an iPad, or Kindle, or anything like it. Maybe I should get one, or risk paying for a whole container-load of nothing but books to cross the ocean waves….MMmmm.

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    1. We’re only getting rid of books that we can get on Kindle or ePub, or that we don’t want. There will be boxes that will have to stay no doubt.

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  2. blasphemy!

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  3. I am going down the path of booklessness, too. But, sometimes I think about what would happen if I couldn’t charge my reader or my tablet or my laptop…will the non-electricity dependent books still be around?

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    1. Hopefully we’ll have something by that point that won’t require charging :) We’re keeping our most precious books and I imagine we’ll buy more in the future, but there are a lot that we don’t need.

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  4. I will never go down the path to booklessness, whether I can get all those titles on an iPad – or anything else – or not. It’s not the same, holding a piece of plastic which was outdated before I even bought it. Holding a book, well, that is timeless, that is something special. Personally, I’d just get a bigger apartment before I start getting rid of my books!

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    1. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do it. I don’t love books any less, and we’ve kept some lovely ones, but we’ve got rid of the ones that we pack into boxes and wonder why we keep them.

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  5. I have a lot of books. I feel the bittersweetness of your story. But I also wonder if you and I and all the other book lovers / nostalgics aren’t engaging in a bit of fetishization? Certainly the “noble” book caused as much fear and disruption in Guttenberg’s day as the various spectres of the Net cause today.

    A while ago I got rid of my printer. It’s a pain on occasion, but I like letting go of that, hmm, “crutch” in order to more fully consider the depth and possibilities of the Open Web. Of course these things don’t have to be binaries: you can keep some books, you can print occasionally. But I also like the freedom and new possibilities of looking forward without a massive cultural dowry weighing down the train of my wedding dress.

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  6. […] donation to charity. But this wasn’t enough of a Project, so I put them on Amazon instead. As others have noted, many books are not worth much. Between time spent listing, time spent packing, time spent at the […]

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  7. Wow… getting rid of books for me was REALLY tough – until I realized I just wasn’t likely to re-read any of them. I always thought I would re-read them in time, but after collecting a few hundred over about 5 years there just wasn’t space for anymore – so I bit the bullet and put every book I owned worth more than a penny the lot on Amazon. I sold all but two books – making well over 1500 pounds! Shocking! The best part is I’m free from my emotional ties to my books now – and happier for it!

    Reply

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