The other day, I read Tim Covell’s post Books and Clutter. In it, he was commenting about an article he had read in a local publication that claimed it was okay to get rid of books.
Both the article and Tim note the trouble of getting rid of books left behind by people who die. That might be a family member or friend. One suggestion was to clean off the bookshelf before death, keeping only what is truly personally valuable.
I understand the philosophy, but I don’t agree with it. However, my opinion applies to the average person, not the extreme. The extreme being the ones who have tens of thousands of books. My view is for the average person who has less than 1,000 books, most having around 500 books.
When we cleaned out my mother’s house in 2019, I was glad I was there to save the books. Others in my family don’t give a hoot about books, so they would have thrown all of them in the trash. They care about books so little, they wouldn’t even have considered donating them. Into the trash they’d have gone without a second thought.
My mother was not the average book owner. She seldom bought books. In total, I believe there were around 40 in her house. Some were books I had written, and one was written by my daughter. A few were genealogy related with connections to our family, particularly her family in Newfoundland. One I had bought her while we were visiting her place of birth. It was locally produced, so copies were limited. I had a copy, too.
Other books I had given to her as gifts. They were stories from Newfoundland. She loved reading these over and over. She also had a fetish for the royal family. The Queen and the history of her family, so she had a few older books about them. She loved reading romance.
I kept all the books, and I went through each one. In them, I found obituaries clipped from newspapers (including the one for my brother who died in 1962), memorials from funerals she attended, a baptism record, a few old photographs, a letter from my brother to her decades ago when he was out west, and other odds and ends in her handwriting. My mother stuck everything in books. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had found Sir Robert Borden on a bill tucked between the pages. I didn’t. I think she preferred to stash her money in her bra and panty drawer.
I’m the average book collector. I wouldn’t be surprised if I counted my books and came close to 1,000. If I did a serious clean out, I might lower that to 800, but all my books are staying with me. Why?
While I do have a few dozen novels, a good chunk of my books are non-fiction. Everything from gardening, woodworking, sketching, painting, herbal remedies, magic, dictionaries, cookbooks, grammar, how to write, handbooks on various topics, gems, atlases, local history, war history and local life histories fill my book shelves. I also have a growing number of my own books and books I’ve helped others publish.
In this digital age where many have stashed their books electronically, I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I’d need power to access them. I’d need some device to view them. That’s fragile. That’s as temporary as an MP3 file for a song. No, I need hard copy.
Hard copy allows me to read a book any time, any where. I see my distant future without the Internet, without a laptop or phone, so if I don’t have hard copy, I won’t have my books. Twenty years from now, I want to sit near a fire and read these books, passing away winter days emerged in story or learning things I didn’t have time to when I was younger.
Knowing the way the world is, the way facts are being manipulated to fit an agenda, I don’t trust institutions to preserve what was. When I learned publishers were removing the ‘hard words’ from old books to make it easier for today’s dumber generation to read and understand, I realised the words written by many great writers are not what is found in today’s new editions.
That’s the least of our worries. I’m more concerned with stories and history books being changed to fit whatever twisted narrative the people in power want to give. Since I use this weapon in my Castle Keepers series, I know how it works. Little changes here and there, and no one knows the truth has been removed and a new ‘truth’ has been inserted.
I understand my books will one day be a burden to my kids, who will be tasked to take care of them. Before I reach the ripe old age of death, I plan to sort through them, donating or giving away books that no longer serve a great purpose. I’ll whittle it down to a few hundred and provide written explanation as to why these are important. Once I pass over, it will be up to them to decide what they do with them.
Until then, I will surround myself with books. Real books. The kind I can hold by the fire, read without power and to pick up years from now and know it will be the same story, the same words as when I first read it.
By the way, Tim is the author of a romance novel set in Nova Scotia. It’s called Ocean’s Lure. Check it out.