I think you’re supposed to nest before a baby is born, but I seem to have become afflicted with the urge many weeks post partum.  Perhaps it’s the extended time I’m spending staring at things I don’t normally see, or the fact that there are now four people living in what is a small house.  I can always blame it on hormones too, I suppose.  Regardless of the root cause, I suddenly feel the need to clean, simplify and purge.  The first place I always start is my bookshelves.  We have at least one in every room.  We have books stacked everywhere there isn’t a bookshelf, including the back of the toilet. I even currently have a bookshelf in a closet. 

My nephew came by the other day and he said “Have you read all these books?”

I looked at him and smugly answered “Almost all of them, yes.” I may have even puffed myself up a little.   Later, when I was frothing-at-the-mouth annoyed that I have no room to put anything (you know, like another small person and all her paraphernalia), I thought, not so smugly, “You did this to yourself.” 

I had finally realized something.  Reading by its nature, is a solitary activity.  You can’t really share it with anyone else.  Therefore the only external expression of having read is a house full of books.  A house full of books you have already read. That seems crazy right?  Yes, it does.  While I re-read my favorites (A River Runs Through It, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and my favorite romance novel the title of which I will not disclose, although I will tell you that ‘peacock’ is in that title), I simply don’t have time to re-read most of the books I have acquired.  Otherwise I would never be able to read anything new.  So why keep them? 

The answer is complicated but for me it comes down to one thing.  A prolific reader (and yes, this is a generalization which may prove to be only specific to me) keeps them so that when someone comes to your home they can be impressed by the physical manifestation of your reading prowess.  Additionally, the right books on display may even indicate to such visitor that you are way smart.  They will be duly intimidated and full of admiration. “Look at Jess,” they will think “She has two copies of To Kill a Mockingbird [true story].  What, one for everyday wear and one for special occasions?  She must be a literary rockstar!”  Simply put, visitors like my nephew are the reason. 

Oh, but the problem is that there is a massage parlor full of rubs here.  Number one:  Generally speaking, the people who read the most are the most introverted.  Time that others spend at parties at other events, they spend curled up on the couch with a book.  Which stands to reason they likely have fewer people to actually come to their house to see their extensive libraries.  This, of course, defeats the purpose.  If a library is full and there is no one there to see it, is it still impressive?  Perhaps. Personally I never have anyone over who isn’t family or close friends.  They don’t find me smart or intimidating.

Number two, anyone who is not a reader will not be sufficiently impressed with your book overflow, as my friend’s husband, a man who has a tv in every room, once illustrated.  “This is the only tv you have?” he asked, pointing to my 19″ model with a built-in VCR. “What do you do, read?”

Number three, anyone who is a reader will not be sufficiently impressed with your book overflow, seeing as they have one of their own.  Perhaps they will see some of their favorites among your titles.  Perhaps they will see something new they like and want to borrow.  But sure enough, they will have a suggestion (or ten) of their own to add, which might in fact, make you feel less impressive, since you haven’t read it(them).  At that point, the Sisyphean nature of your book collecting will rear its ugly head.

All of which, made it quite easy for me (mostly) to pack up many dozens of titles and donate them to the library, whose collection is now a mite more impressive than it used to be.  Leaving me with enough room to liberate the closet bookshelf.  But while there are gaps on my shelves, the big psychological gap needs filling.  How will anyone know what and how much I’ve read?  How will I get my external validation?  Technology has the answer, fortunately:  www.goodreads.com.  Where you can show off what you are reading and what you have read.  All without taking up any physical space whatsoever.  Genius.  And with the Facebook app, you can be sure that all your friends know how impressive a reader you really are.

Now, what to do with my pathological book buying. . .stay tuned for Part 2.

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