The bookshelves my dad made for me sit nearly empty on each side of the front window in the home I now share with my new husband and stepsons.
At times over the past few years, those shelves have been nearly full, crammed with hard- and soft-back volumes of novels and commentaries and memoirs and spiritual non-fiction. There have been years, I’ll admit it, when my book budget definitely exceeded my clothing budget, and possibly rivaled what I spent on food. To encounter a book is to love it—that’s often been my guiding principle.
So every time I walked through a book store or passed a book table at a conference or lecture, if there was cash in my wallet or a credit card reader near the entrance, I left with a bound copy.
When I met my husband a few months back, his love of reading was part of the attraction. We had read many of the same books—just last month we practically raced each other to the end of Glynn Young’s A Light Shining, and we now are able to recommend works to each other. Since he has a Nook and I have a Kindle, we recently discovered that we could each download the other app onto our iPhones and easily share those books too.
I didn’t understand, then, why when it came time to plan my move to his house from mine that I knew I had to get rid of most of my books.
Steve didn’t ask me to do that. He wouldn’t. He would gladly have helped me pack each book in the little U-Haul boxes I purchased. He would have carried the boxes, two at a time, from the van to the living room. He would even have helped me unpack them, except he would have known that I had a plan for that, that I would want to organize them myself.
Steve didn’t ask me to leave my books behind.
The real reason wasn’t clear to me, either, as I grabbed books from the shelves, handfuls at a time, and bagged them up to take to a local book resale shop. When I wheeled in the 10 bags, the employees’ eyes widened. “It will take about 25 minutes to give you an estimate, ” one man told me. “We’ll call your name.”
Thirty minutes later when I was still wondering aimlessly through the store, I ambled closely by the counter. The young lady looking through my books, my precious books, still had three bags left. Twenty minutes later, I left with $90. I was amazed at how much they gave me.
Don’t tell the employees at Half Price Books, but I would have paid to have someone take them. Really, the books in those bags were worth thousands. I just didn’t want to throw them away.
I had read most of the books in those bags. I had learned and grown from them. Several of them had been loaned and returned; some of them had been gifts. Some of them I might have read again had they remained in my collection. But most of them had been read once and then sat on a shelf. For years. With no chance of being read again. Unless they were sold.
Books are who I am–I am the sum total of every book I have read. But if I am to grow further, if I am to continue to be, then I have to make room for new books. There has to be room in my life for more information, more facts, and most of all, more stories–stories that aren’t even written yet.
And in this season, when everything is changing—starting with my name and address, but also down into my soul—now seemed like a good time to make room for new books.
I took only six boxes of books to my new house. Now unpacked and set on the shelves, there’s still room for twice as many more. Over time, I expect that many will find their way there, if not on my Kindle.
And the expectation of that emptiness has completely filled me up.