Possessions: My Complicated Relationship with Books

Possessions: My Complicated Relationship with Books

I love books, the way they smell, the way they look, and how they make me feel when I’m surrounded by them; at my workplaces, I seek out libraries and rooms with books in them, just to be able to sit with them near. It’s one of the few ways I’m able to relax.

Naturally, my apartment is also filled with books. Though my husband doesn’t feel quite the same way about them, he enjoys them too. We have them piled up on a chest of drawers beside our bed, they’re piled on shelves in our office, and stacks of them line some parts of the wall. When I was little, my entire Christmas list consisted of books. I would just hand my parents a list of some of my favorite authors, and they’d go out and buy me piles of them. Most of my Christmas morning was spent organizing my new acquisitions, perusing the covers, deciding in which order I’d read them. I dreamed of the day when I had a job and be able to join some sort of book-of-the-month club, where I could look forward to some reasonably priced books every month.

Then, I moved, and my relationship with books (and all possessions, really) changed. I moved from California to Chicago and realized that possessions were quite the burden when faced with moving them halfway across the country. I didn’t have room in the car to bring my 8 large bins of books that I’d been collecting since childhood; I barely had room to fit all my clothes, kitchenware, and linens. Then, I got tired of Chicago and moved yet again; that time, I purged what I had — giving my now-husband, then-boyfriend anything that I wanted to save, but only saving truly important things, because we weren’t sure where we were going to live in the future. All the books I’d acquired in Chicago ended up in used bookstores, high school classrooms, take-one, leave-one shelves in my apartment building. At that point, I stopped trying to acquire books. Where was I supposed to put them all? How can I move them yet again? I’ve been through 3 large, across-country moves now in my life, and I’m so tired of worrying about that stuff. It’s stressful getting a new load of books and looking at my cramped apartment, with various items lying along the walls of my office, wondering where I can possibly squeeze these new additions.

Despite my heavy reliance on the library, and our much-needed weekly visits to that glorious place that is filled to the brim with bookshelves and books, we still somehow manage to gain more and more, and I’m still trying to figure out how we’re supposed to fit it all into where we live. I have complicated relationship with possessions now. I love new things; I love new books, but I hate acquiring them, because it requires either a laissez-faire attitude towards how much stuff I’m piling up in the spare room or some very clever, tricky arranging mechanism that I still can’t figure out no matter how much I think about it. I love the idea of getting my books back from California, where my parents are loyally storing them; I love the idea of getting a place big enough to install floor-to-ceiling shelves on the walls and filling them up with the books I have (I’m willfully ignoring the fact that I have many more years ahead of me of acquiring new ones), but how is that ever going to happen? When is that going to happen? Buying large houses is expensive! So is buying all those bookshelves! Where is that money going to come from?

Basically, lately, I’ve been having a sort of existential crisis with myself over my relationship with books. I love them, I want them, I need them to be happy, but they’re stressing me out! It’s hard to find the balance between having some favorites and accumulating all the books I’ve ever wanted to read but will probably only touch once. I’m hoping that by not buying so much and feeding into that sort-of addiction, I’ll be able to handle the urge to get books a little better; I’m hoping that we somehow luck into a huge house that I’ll be able to fill with all the items I want (but I’m not holding my breath on that one).

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