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Unpacking My Girlfriend’s Library


PUBLISHED: September 10, 2009
A pile of books on the floor of a living room
Kristin Brenemen / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Forgive me if this post is short. I am writing in less than ideal conditions: on a folding chair, in the middle of an as-of-yet partially unfurnished apartment, surrounded by boxes upon boxes of books. Collected over a dozen or so years of post-secondary schooling, reviewing, and pleasure reading, the books are half mine and half my girlfriend’s. In the past three weeks, I have carried nearly a ton of boxes from our old apartment in Madison to the post office, from my parents’ basements to our new apartment in Oakland, all the while reminded of the cautionary tale I heard about a University of Wisconsin professor who spent most of the summer shoring up the foundation of his house, which had been damaged by the weight of his library. This professor, whose knowledge about nearly every subject his research touches is the stuff of legends, has recently become a vocal Kindle booster. And I can see his argument. Electronic books are searchable, easy to organize, light, and great for those who have trouble reading small print.

But no matter how bad my eyes get, no matter how strained my back and the foundation of any house I may own in the future, I would have a difficult time giving up on my library. Surrounded by my books, even in boxes on the floor, I feel a sense of physical comfort and assurance that no reading device could ever offer. While my library isn’t searchable, especially not in its current state, the physical presence of books allows for serendipities and connections that I would never be able to encounter through a text search. Holding a book in my hand, I have a strong sense of the work the author put into it (as well as all the agents, editors, marketers, and graphic designers who contributed to its final manifestation in print). I won’t begrudge anyone who wants to read their books in electronic form, at least they are reading. But I will stick to paper and ink. Some would toss their e-book device in the glove compartment and head out on the super highway. Not me. I’ll take media mail. I’ll take the heft of the book in my hand.

5 Comments

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Jake's picture
Jake · 10 years ago
But no matter how bad my eyes get, no matter how strained my back and the foundation of any house I may own in the future, I would have a difficult time giving up on my library. Likewise. The recent pictures of Neil Gaiman’s really impressive library inspired me to post a (partial) picture of my own (in contrast) here.
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KrisUnderwood's picture
I very much agree with you. I love my books. I love the physicality of them, being surrounded by them-it IS comforting. I don’t think I could ever give it up for a Kindle. Jake-I saw the picture of Gaiman’s as well-very impressive. I would love to have the room for something like that.
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Waldo Jaquith's picture
After watching that new hoarding show on A&E the other night, now I can’t help but think of taking comfort in being surrounded by one’s possessions as the first step on a journey to crazy-town. That show made me want to throw away everything I own.
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Laza's picture
Laza · 10 years ago
I’ll take both my Kindle and my books. Why do I have to sacrifice one for the other?
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Jake's picture
Jake · 9 years ago
“I can’t help but think of taking comfort in being surrounded by one’s possessions as the first step on a journey to crazy-town.” That’s true to some extent, but I’m reminded of this comment in Paul Graham’s essay “Stuff: ”
I’ve now stopped accumulating stuff. Except books—but books are different. Books are more like a fluid than individual objects. It’s not especially inconvenient to own several thousand books, whereas if you owned several thousand random possessions you’d be a local celebrity. But except for books, I now actively avoid stuff. If I want to spend money on some kind of treat, I’ll take services over goods any day.
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