Why You'll Have to Pry My Books From My Cold, Dead Hands

August 14, 2015

“I love the book. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the compactness of it, the shape, the size. I love the feel of paper. The sound it makes when I turn a page. I love the beauty of print on paper, the patterns, the shapes, the fonts. I am astonished by the versatility and practicality of The Book. It is so simple. It is so fit for its purpose. It may give me mere content, but no e-reader will ever give me that sort of added pleasure.”—Susan Hill, Howard’s End is on the Landing.

I could have written these words. Like Hill, I am a bibliophile—one who loves and collects books. My books are friends. To have my friends around me is a comforting simple pleasure, a delight. I’m all for living with less—less clutter, less activity, less stress. Except when it comes to my books.

You’ll have to pry my books from my cold, dead hands.

In addition to my ever-growing pile of to-be-read (TBR) books, I have many shelves of books I’ve already read. They’re not valuable first editions, but they’re treasured and priceless to me. I cull them from time to time, but I take so much pleasure in my personal library that it would be painful to disperse it. (If you’d like a peek at my shelves, click here—I was part of Danielle’s Lost in the Stacks Home Edition feature at A Work in Progress.)

I don’t keep every book I buy—only ones I think I’ll reread at least once, books I’ll use for reference and/or inspiration, and books that were once important to me that I can’t quite give up yet.

Some of the books I own I’ve searched for over years, or stumbled upon serendipitously. Less than a handful are autographed by their authors, including a copy of the children’s classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. Many years ago I heard the author, Judith Viorst, speak at my local library, and was completely tongue-tied when I asked her to sign my book afterwards. Just looking at that book reminds me of the entire experience of that night.

My books don’t have to be beautiful, but as I’ve gotten older (and my bookshelves more crowded), I’ve started being pickier about what they look like. It pained me that my second-hand copy of All Passion Spent had an unattractive cover illustration (but not enough for me to turn down the copy that became available on Paperback Swap). I covet the lovely dove-gray Persephone books, though I’ve yet to collect my first one. Perhaps looking for books I think are attractive will slow down the entire acquisition process!

I use books to boost my mood, and it’s comforting to have my favorites at my fingertips. There are certain books I reread frequently—not having them on hand might constitute an emotional crisis.

As William Giraldi writes in “Why We Need Physical Books”: “Across a collector’s bookshelves, upright and alert like uniformed sentinels, are segments of his personal history, segments that he needs to summon in order to ascertain himself fully, which is part of his motive for reading books in the first place—whatever else it is, a life with books is incentive to remember, and in remembering, understand.”

I start every day in my office, where I allow my eyes to play over the titles on my shelves while I drink my morning coffee. So many of the books I’ve kept have left a lasting mark on me, and sometimes I need to see them to remember. I need to pull them off the shelf and flip through them, letting them transport and transform me for a second time. What could be more of a simple pleasure than that?

Do you keep books after you’ve read them? What are your favorites?

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  1. I hope we won't be prying your books from your cold hands any time soon!

    I have a series of books by Dan Parkinson that have special memories for me and my family at a horrific time that I keep and give me great comfort. The books are outrageous funny and provided humor in a time when there was little but it was much needed.

    Perhaps I need to revisit soon...

  2. Laure--Yes, let's hope not! It's always nice to have some friendly faces on the bookshelves, especially when the rest of the world isn't so pleasant. It would be fun to do a round-up post with everyone's favorite comfort read.

  3. Like you, I love to hear; always have. And like you, I prefer books to my kind, which has its place too. But unlike you, I rarely reread a book. Probably because I'm a slow reader and I don't want to spend the time on a book I've already read when there are so many books I haven't read. But I do keep a few books that are special to me. I have all of Robert Fulghum's books, some of which I've actually read more than once. And a couple of my favorite children's books (that I read as adults): The Little Prince and The Velveteen Rabbit. I just gave my Winnie the Pooh books to my grandson. And The Prophet, which I've also read more than once. And of course I keep art books!

  4. That first sentence was supposed to be I love to read, and then kindle not kind!!

  5. Cheryl--How sweet that you gave your Winnie the Pooh books to your grandson! I hope someday I can pass on some of my favorites to a grandchild (but not yet!). I have a TBR list that I'll never finish, but I do make time for a couple of rereads of old favorites every year. I have never read The Prophet, but I've heard so many people mention it. I liked The Little Prince, shall I have a go at The Prophet?

  6. I bet you'd like The Prophet. I just looked it up and it's classified as prose poetry essays, but I think it's very poetic. I know you like poetry.

  7. Cheryl--Sounds right up my alley. I'll have to check it out.

  8. Dear Kathy I share your love for books. I too have shelves all over the house filled to the brim. Two years ago my folks bought us a Kindle. Sad to say that was a pure waste. I want the physical book in my hand. I know the say books and libraries are on their way out but I think they are wrong. There are still too many of us out there yet who love holding the genuine gem! So glad to hear others feel like we do. Well now I need to get back to Nicholas Sparks. "The Best of Me". Have a super day.

  9. Debbie--My husband adores his Kindle and refuses to read paper books anymore--guess different strokes for different folks--but I don't think I'll ever feel that way. I only read on my tablet when I have to. I really don't care HOW people read, as long as they do. Enjoy your book!

  10. A lovely biblio-post. Since I'm at an older age and stage, I've been downsizing. Having worked in bookstores, I had collected a ton of books. I've let go of so many. Now I have some mini sub-libraries in my home. One genre is related to the Midda book you show in the photo, books bought here and especially in France. Another is children's picture books, though I've been letting go of a lot of the American ones. Then children's intermediate novels, including Winnie the Pooh & Charlotte's Web. One of my oldest books that I've kept is Siddhartha. and then there are The French books, perhaps I now have more in French than in English! This is so pleasant to think about.
    PS I think you'd like The Prophet too. I have French and English versions. I heard they're making a movie from it. From the previews I probably will not go see it.

  11. PS. I'm with you about the paper, colors, typefaces, etc. They DO look so beautiful on the bookshelves!

  12. Rita--I would love to poke through your bookshelves! It's so cool that you have such a large collection of French books, and everything else you describe sounds so interesting. I hope gazing on your shelves brings you pleasure. It sounds like you're winnowing down to the ones that mean the most and give you the most joy.

  13. Lovely post and that quote totally resonates with me, too! Thanks for the link--I loved doing those posts and peeking at other people's books--what a treat. I am picky about my books, too, and I hate to admit this, but sometimes I will 'recycle' a book that I don't like and replace it with a nicer copy (doesn't happen often, but a few times..). I have gotten much better, however, at liking used books--as long as they are gently read--sometimes it is really cool to find some scrap of paper or marginalia in an old book and to wonder what the person who owned it before me was like. This is going to sound silly--well, I think you will understand--but sometimes I like just browsing through my own piles--especially some that I have not looked at in a while and revisiting books or discovering something new. I am trying hard this year to read mostly from my own stacks--hence the reason I have not talked about library books, since I so rarely borrow them. If only that meant I was not buying and adding new books to piles already too tall! ;) I really must read that Susan Hill book-it has been sitting on my shelf far too long!

  14. Sheesh--all those food pictures--especially of sweets are making me hungry!

  15. Danielle--I loved peeking at other people's shelves, too. I believe I'm fundamentally nosy that way. I have also "recycled" a book to get a nicer copy--most recently I "upgraded" my copy of Gift From the Sea. My old copy was a softcover and falling apart, and my new copy is a hardback with some new text from Anne Morrow Lindgbergh that I hadn't read. A nice find at my library's bookstore, so also economical!

    I enjoyed the Susan Hill book very much--I liked her writing voice. I didn't know who she was when I bought the book--turns out she has written quite a few novels, so I will probably look for some of them.

    I've been trying to read from my shelves for several years, and not making much progress, since I keep buying more books. I guess if I can keep the numbers about the same I can get away with it because I currently have space for all my unread books. If I ever begin to overflow my closet, I'll have to have a stern talk with myself.