It’s My Birthday And I’ll Blog If I Want To

Posted: February 21, 2014 in Life/Stuff
Tags: , , ,

In the secret library of my mind, I still own every book I’ve ever bought. Though the hands giveth away, the heart remembers. Even when there are no physical gaps on my shelves to indicate what’s gone, the absence still provokes a certain lurch, like a missing step. I mourn the loss of books which, at the time, I felt certain I’d never actually read, or would never read again; I lament the folly which caused me to get rid of “inessential” works – that is, anything I wasn’t actively planning to reread at the time. I even regret the loss of particular children’s reference books, not for any sentimental reason, but because they’re actually very good starting places for worldbuilding research – or would be, if I hadn’t given them all away.

It’s not as if I make a habit of shedding books. I cling to paperbacks like a baby possum clutching its mother’s stomach. It’s just that, when I do get rid of things, I tend to do it en masse, while under the undue influence of my-room-is-clean-let’s-do-this-thing euphoria. As a kid, I’d take boxes of my old books to the local second hand store, then walk away clutching a whole twenty dollars – which, to a twelve year old, is basically millions. As a teenager, I turfed out a few books before heading to university, then more when my parents moved house. (And then again, to my infinite regret, when my college boyfriend convinced me that the much-loved and complete sets of Garfield, Snoopy and Footrot Flats I’d spent nearly twenty years acquiring were too childish for an adult to keep lugging round.) Every time, I thought I was doing the right thing, and every time, I experienced the same crushing disappointment when, having forgotten my former ruthlessness, I instinctively reached for a book that wasn’t there. Never again, I vowed.

And then we moved to England.

It was the turfout to end all turfouts. To give you some idea of exactly how many books I used to have, before we left, I gave away five boxes of children’s fiction and reference, five of adult works, put another nine boxes aside for safekeeping in Australia, and still had enough books left to fill the twelve boxes that came with us to the UK. I even gave away almost my entire collection of Anne McCaffrey – a decision so foolishly heartbreaking that, for three years afterwards, I managed to convince myself that it had never happened. I only realised the truth this month, when we came back to visit relatives (and to finally reclaim our things) and realised how much I’d thought I’d kept aside was, in fact, missing.

And now, today, it’s my birthday. All month long, I’ve been buying books with birthday and holiday money, stocking up on titles that are rare outside Australia, rummaging through secondhand stores and plotting to once again reconfigure my office when we get home, the better to squeeze in just one more shelf. I’ve even rebought some secondhand McCaffreys, to replace the ones I abandoned. But the real gift I’ve given myself is this: the permission to never, ever get rid of any books again. As a kid, I was able to build a library because I spent my entire childhood in the same, big house with the same, bookish parents. I had stability, space and encouragement, and I used those things to fill my room with dinosaur magazines, books on sharks and castles and the human body and, of course, fantasy novels. I took my library for granted, and so, when the need or opportunity arose, I never thought twice about frittering bits of it away.

But since I’ve become an adult – living in smaller places, packing and repacking my possessions with each new move, living for weeks or months or years with furniture chosen by landlords and not nearly enough storage space – I’ve come to appreciate the immense psychological value of a library. I feel comforted and whole in the presence of books, and always have done, and always will do. Having grown up in a house that boasted reading material in every room, I now find bookless rooms to be cold, unfinished, uncomfortable. Browsing in bookshops calms me down the way tea or coffee calms other people, regardless of whether I end up buying anything. Even when their weight becomes impractical – and even though I now have a Kindle – I always travel with multiple books to hand, partly because I can’t bear the thought of running out of things to read, but mostly because there’s no surer way to make myself feel at home in a hotel room than to put a stack of novels on the nighstand.

And now, finally, I have the same library-spawning privileges I did as a child: a place that’s mine, a supply of shelves, and the sure and certain knowledge that I won’t be moving again for a good, long while. The whole time we’ve been in Australia, I’ve been rounding up the books I left in storage like papery sheep, ready to ship them home with me.. I’m building my new library, and this time, it’s for keeps. In the nineteen days we’ve been here – and without counting Kindle purchases – I’ve bought twenty-two books: an average of more than one day.

Hello. My name is Foz, and I’m a bookaholic.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  1. Todd says:

    I did this twice. Once on purpose, to “thin out the herd” so to speak and I regretted giving every single one of them away to this day. The next time was on accident, when we had a problem with chemical exposure in our house, and all paper items had to be destroyed. I’m not sure which time hurt more, but now that I’m older, I’m on a mad quest to collect as many books as possible.

  2. Jean Lamb says:

    You know you’re a bookaholic when…Snape’s way of decorating Spinners End with walls of books seems rather sensible and homey – now, how to you turn a door into a complete bookshelf without magic? (speaking as someone with 10k books on hand and my dad’s SF collection in the storage space, which does stay nice and dry, yay!).

  3. ParnassusReads says:

    Hello. My name is Veronica and I am a bookaholic. 1/4 of my library is in my apartment. Another 1/4 is in storage nearby. The other half is at my parents’ house in another state. Having had to move twice in the past 6 months, I seriously considered purging much of what I have with me to make room in our now smaller space and because I knew my husband was tired of moving all of the book boxes. I told my him I was thinking about this one night, just after we moved in to our little apartment. He hugged me and said that I should never do this because my books are a part of who I am. He said that he knew this when he married me and that even though lugging the boxes around hasn’t been fun, I shouldn’t give up part of who I am. I cried a little when he said that. He had accepted something about me that I had not, yet.

    The fact that you have decided to allow yourself to keep all of your books and have realized what an important part they play in your life and who you are is an important step in overcoming the guilt that bookaholics frequently have about their addiction, and I am very happy for you. I’m also happy that you now have a space in which to house them all. I wish you all the best this year and many more book-buying adventures. Happy Birthday!

  4. Hala J. says:

    “Browsing in bookshops calms me down the way tea or coffee calms other people regardless of whether I end up buying anything.”

    This speaks to me on so many levels. SO MUCH. I never actively gave away books but I have moved around a lot and because of it my library shrunk and grew depending on where I was. I insist on having a library when I move into my own space, something I don’t have at the moment. Bookaholic, and proud of it!

  5. hierath says:

    Happy Birthday! Also a bookaholic and proud, and I have the same regrets for lost books (when Chris finds a book I’ve expressed regret for losing, he buys it for me. This is why I love him 🙂 )

  6. Anubis says:

    Hello. My name is Chris* and I’m a bookaholic. I used to have my library in my apartment, but when I moved to Argentina four years ago, I had to store it in my family home’s attic, where half of it still resides. Now I live in a 14 m² room in a students’ residence in Hamburg. There are several second-hand bookstores with incredibly generous prices in Hamburg. They make me buy more and more books. There is no end to it. I just can’t help it. My room is crammed with shelves and piles of books to the ceiling. People keep telling me I can give it up if I want to … but now I realize it is really the last thing I want to give up, because being surrounded by books makes me feel calm and confident, and opening them fills me with the joy of expectation!

    Happy birthday!

    * Not the one from hierath’s comment. 😉

  7. Christel says:

    I haven’t read it yet, but I heard the beginning of Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Night Bookmobile” on the radio last week, about an elusive mobile library full of every book–or cereal box, or newspaper, or anything–you personally have ever read. All the picture books you’ve forgotten, all the middle grade series you can still reorganize into the correct order in bookstores, all your school essays… I was devastated to remember I was listening to fiction.

  8. guthrie says:

    I too am a bookaholic; I skipped over the part where Foz described getting rid of books because I don’t like that idea at all. I have been fortunate in having a fairly stable life so far, which allowed me to pack books into my parents attic when I had work for a couple of years in another town. Now I have my own flat and I have started saying “I’ll just check my library” since I have well over 3,000, probably nearer 4k, on topics I am interested in. I’m starting to think about getting them listed as a separate item on the household insurance, since the costs to replace them
    (I aquired some of them in the heyday of charity shop booksales, 15 years ago when you could usually pick up a good book for 50pence; now they are 2 or 3 pounds or much more, and others I got lucky and paid a low price for them and now the cheapest replacement available online is £20)
    will be in the tens of thousands.
    The books act as an external memory, I have a poor memory anyway, so it’s easier to be able to refer back to the books. They are also of course independent of the internet, so you can check things and correct people who have just made wrong comments. Sometimes they admit they are wrong when faced with written authority …
    The varied array of book spines represents the massive amount of and variety of human knowledge, experience, and of course entertainment. However I feel a little concerned about hogging it all to myself and so do make sure to lend books out to people who are interested. And I do re-read books, although which and when depends on my interests and suchlike. A year ago I re-read many of my Agatha Christie books, first time in 15 years perhaps. Others books e.g. on non-fiction I have bought and they sit waiting for me to feel like reading them, or I realise I need to find out about some subject and it turns out I already have a book on it waiting in my library.
    So happy book searching, finding and buying and of course reading.

    • Jean Lamb says:

      I think an insurance rider is a very good idea. Take pictures of them with a phone or whatever digital camera might be lying around and give the insurance agent a CD of the photos or even a cheap thumb drive. I know I need to do it, too, especially with the bookcase I have of first editions and autographed books (some by SF authors long dead, since I’ve been a fan for er, A While Now). And my dad’s collection, which is, I suspect irreplaceable. I know someone who lost his collection in a fire and a lot of us on the fan list sent donations, but it’s never the same. We also have a really great collection of large format comics (Foxtrot, Calvin and Hobbes, etc.) which are great for when we’re sick. But insurance, yes, I think that’s a very good idea.

  9. Happy birthday! Wonderful, lovely post. After helping me many times most of my friends and family have adopted a rule about never helping an English major move. Still, I’ve never regretted keeping boxes of books but often mourn the few I’ve sold or donated.

  10. […] bookaholic, or biblioholic, if you want to make it sound more pretentious. (Foz Meadows’ post yesterday was particularly on […]

  11. Vivi says:

    Happy birthday, and I feel you.
    But… Could you please have a good, long think about your use of a term that describes disability (“lame”) when you mean “bad” or “boring”? You wouldn’t say “that’s so gay” either, would you? There are many, many words in the English language to describe something as undesirable which don’t imply certain people are undesirable – so use them, Mrs. Writes-For-A-Living.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Augh sorry! I used it without thinking because it’s verbatim what my then BF said, but I’ve altered it above.

  12. Sylvia says:

    Hi, My name is Sylvia and I’m a bookaholic.
    When I grew up, the only room with no books was… uh, wait…
    Well, the kitchen didn’t have any bookshelves. Just a spare chair with a stack of books and newspapers.
    Every bedroom had built in bookshelves.
    The library was a weekly trip, with a stroller because little kids couldn’t carry that many books 😉

  13. I want a love button for this. Such a a wonderful read! I’m such a book person myself and there are such kindred spirits in the words here.

    Even from a small age, the tiny dollars I would scrape together in my piggy bank, I would spend at book fairs. They would send out a catalog of the fair coming to our school and we could pre-order books. I would read the little catalog so many times it was barely legible by the time it came around. Every penny I spent on books, and there weren’t that many to go around. We didn’t have much. I loved books so much I was a librarian assistant by the 3rd grade. There were library cards with my name on them in so many titles on its shelves, sometimes checked out 20 or 30 times.

    All through college I worked in a bookstore, which fed my book addiction and my reading addiction (as if I didn’t have enough reading at the university…) There was a sense of camaraderie amongst the booksellers-we were among friends even when it was our first day. Book lovers are like that. Just for the love of books, most, if not all, the people who worked at this particular bookstore were so overqualified, it was insane. We counted over 20 bachelors degrees and 3 masters degrees amongst our group. They worked there because they loved books, even if they were paid absolute shit. I still count it as one of the best jobs I have ever had, not because of the company itself, but because of my bookish friends and the books I got to see every single day, like visiting dear relatives, even the crazy ones; and help people with books, something which is hard NOT to show passion for.

    I have also, like you, given books away which I regret, when I moved cross-country, driving 3000 miles all the way down the west coast and then across the entire United States into the southeast. The books didn’t all fit, and the minute I read the first part of your post, I felt the poignant pangs you felt. Because I have them myself. Like missing limbs, I search for them sometimes.

    I even regret the books I parted with, when I lost a very close friend to cancer. I had to give many of her books away-there were simply too large in number-even some having been transported from Germany to England to the US to Hawaii and back to the US. Those books, the ones I remember in her house, were part of her too, like mine are to me. I miss her so much-I wish I had kept more than I did.

    I wonder what will become of my book-children when I die. There are stories behind each of them, no one knows, but me. What a legacy to have and to share-I hope we all find a way to share it with someone so that the rapture they had for us can be passed on to someone else; to keep the embers of that love going.

    It is so nice to hear someone so unapologetically hold on to those books-and not have to make excuses for them anymore. I admire you Foz. Keep your books and everything they represent. You and me and everyone who is bookish have a heart in common. The smell of books, the rightness, the memories they evoke-they are tangible; they manifest so many wonderful things in our lives.

    I hope you never give one up again. I hope I don’t either. One of my favorite quotes about books “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book”, by Henry David Thoreau, in Walden, is like the battlecry for bookophiles.

    A toast, to new eras, in reading books…

    Blessings to you Foz, and Happy Birthday. 🙂


  14. Reblogged this on inkberrysquill and commented:
    Love this! I have never reblogged anything before, but this is a subject dear to to my heart and resonates. Never give your books away. Clothes, Shoes, Dishes, Furniture-give THEM away. I would rather live in an empty house, than give up my books. Thank you Foz, for such a lovely read and for being a bookish superhero.

  15. D Loon says:

    I sure can relate to this. I mourn countless books I’ve given away in several moves and attempts to simplify, and I don’t want to do it no more.

  16. njmagas says:

    This post was painful to read. I understand the heartbreak. This past Christmas I went back home to Canada with my pockets full of two years worth of backed Christmas and birthday money and the intent to spend it all on shipping more of my book collection back to Japan. But when I got to my old bookshelves they were strikingly bare. Did I really throw away all those other books? The ones that were just sitting there in a permanent ‘to be read sometime’ stasis, the ones I had a passing interest in once, the ones that I outgrew. Did I really, four years ago, put them all in boxes marked ‘throw away’ and turn my back on them?

    Seems like I did, and while I still had more than enough books remaining to blow $500 on shipping them back with me, the loss of those other books that I never had any intention of reading (or rereading) really hurt. I try not to think about it too much. There will always be more books, I tell myself. Always more books.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s