I've been working in bookstores over ten years now. And the past couple of years have been at Third Place Books. I started at the Lake Forest Park store, took some time off to become a full-time student, and am now at Ravenna Third Place Books as a part-time, bookseller extraordinaire. I joke that I work at the bookstore to support my habit. And it is a habit, sometimes as burdensome as other, more destructive habits. Customers often ask if we ever leave with any money left in our paychecks...and sometimes they aren't far off.
I envy people like Wendy, who posted last year about her small, but meaningful book collection. I wish that I had that kind of discipline. But there is something about books as objects and intentions; I just want to surround myself with them. It's comforting to think of all the words just waiting for me tucked between those covers. And then again, sometimes it's not so comforting. Sometimes those unread words weigh heavy on me. How do I reconcile my desire to own books, and my increasing need to live a simple, more streamlined life?
Upon returning from my break from bookselling, I noticed how much my reading habits had changed. Spending less time in a bookstore meant I was buying fewer books, and when I returned and began to stock up again, it was clear that there was a difference in the books I was interested in. My bookshelves were now laden with unread books that I no longer had any intention of reading. I felt guilty and wasteful. And it was with a heavy heart that I boxed up those books and brought them in to sell back to the store as used books.
But then a funny thing happened a few days later. A customer came up to purchase a used book and by chance, it was one of my old books. I mentioned that the book had been mine and his face lit up. He said, "I have been looking for this book for years!" All this time he had been looking for the very book that was wasting away on my bookshelf at home. Unread and unloved just waiting for the right reader who could truly appreciate it. How many other books in my house were destined for the same fate?
I know this was a lesson in not buying what I don't need, but I also choose to see it as a lesson in letting go when it's time to let go. Once upon a time, that book meant something to me. I really, truly meant to read that book. But then circumstances changed, life got busy, and I became a different person and a different reader. I will never stop buying books, the comfort they give me read, unread, or passed on is too important. But I'm also going to work on letting go of those books I no longer intend to read, and maybe letting go a little sooner.
I buy fewer books now, even so, I am sure to eventually purchase one that will begin to gather dust, its spine uncracked, its pages unread. But rather than let that book molder away on my shelf, I will set it free. Free to fulfill its book destiny with someone else who can give it a good home and the attention that all books deserve...and besides, selling books means store credit!