My family and I moved from Ypsilanti, Michigan to Denver, Colorado in the summer of 2012. It was a hell of a move, and we had to ditch a ton of stuff, but the worst of it, by far, was the books. We had to get rid of so many books. I had just finished graduate school, and part of the ritual of graduate school is the accumulation of books. Around then I had also started writing fiction seriously, and part of the ritual of writing seriously is reading seriously, and for me that also required the accumulation of books. At the time we were set to move, we had a basement lined with bookshelves. We had to get rid of easily 80% of those books.
Jon and I were allowed two boxes of books apiece to take with us. My other partner, Sam, only had a single box of books to start with. Unlike me and Jon, she is a Library Person. You know them: voracious readers, inconstant, non-possessive sorts. Jon and I are Book Owners, which meant we had tough decisions to make. I came up with a list of criteria books had to pass to make it to the Rocky Mountains. Had I read it? Was I going to actually read it if I hadn’t (be honest)? If I had read it, would I reread it? Did it have sentimental value? If it was a holdover from grad school, would it be useful in my new job? If the book didn’t fall into any of those buckets, I gave it into the greedy, waiting hands of my ravenous grad school friends. I whittled my books down to two cardboard boxes, and the rest scattered to the wind. Getting rid of the books was actually harder on my partner, Jon, than it was on me. Jon fretted and wept, but eventually he got his down to the requisite two boxes, too, and off we went to Denver.
We landed in a smaller house in Colorado than we had in Michigan. Perfectly reasonably sized, but with less room to hide things away. When we moved into the new house, Sam instituted a new rule: the amount of books must stabilize. If a new book comes in, an old book must leave. We just didn’t have the room to start mounting up piles of random books again, she said. And she was right. We only had two book shelves to work with in our new house, and living with a toddler meant that functionally speaking they weren’t even complete bookshelves. The bottom shelves were off-limits–anything in them was getting plucked off by our kid and hidden around the house or covered in peanut butter. So, really, we only had one and a half book shelves to work with.
I had long been a physical book holdout up until then, but I cracked like an eggshell when Sam put her foot down. I saved up, and within months, I bought a Kindle. I had to feed my habit, man! It was a perfect compromise–an e-reader meant I could buy all the books I wanted without running into physical space constraints. I could have my cake and eat it, too!
I thought the switch from a physical book to an ebook would be a transition, but it wasn’t. I thought I would miss the feel of turning pages, but I didn’t. I found I liked the size and feel of the Kindle, and I liked that I could read it in bed without the light on. I liked that if I finished a book on the bus I could immediately start reading a new one. I liked that I could still highlight and annotate my books1. It surprised me how little switching back and forth between formats changed my reading habits and style.
We still have Sam’s rule in the house these days. She’s appended caveats to it, because I can’t help myself, and I sneak in books anyway. There are little piles of contraband books stacked in the corners of my bedroom because they don’t fit on our bookshelves. New physical books are only allowed in the house if:
- another book leaves subsequently
- if I am the only one interested in the book, the new book is unavailable in ebook format OR the book is likely to be read by Sam or Jon2
- Buying the book supports diversity in literature (the book either features diverse characters, was written by a diverse author, or both)
Honestly, if Sam knew how many books are not coming into our house because I bought the ebook instead, she’d throw a party. Or she’d get mad because she thought I was spending way less money on books. It’s hard to tell. In any case, the kindle has been a major space saver.
1I have always been one to annotate/defile physical copies of books.
2Neither of them have jumped on the ebook train like I have. They’ll do it if they have to, but they don’t like to. I got away with buying Shadowshaper in hardcopy because Sam is interested in reading it AND it features diverse characters/was written by an author of color. So far I haven’t gotten rid of anything to make space for it. Don’t tell Sam.
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