I grew up in a big family during some fairly hard economic times and we didn’t have much. I learned pretty quickly that very little came free in this (capitalist) life and that things were often worth what you paid for them. There was one place that broke those rules, one beautiful, enduring space where I could find many worlds, and people, and lives, and live them. The library. I loved it so much that one of my ambitions in life became to amass one of my own.
As I came of age into an increasingly capitalist world, I didn’t really ever get on to the ownership train. I could tell you heartbreaking stories of missed London property opportunities but that’s for a different blog post. When it came to ‘things’ all I’ve ever really invested in is books. They fill my rooms like a growing plant. My book collection grew and grew over years of reading. If I saw other people throwing out their books, these were also adopted by me, regardless of whether I was likely to read them myself. I bought books in shops, online, at car boot sales and in the local Oxfam. I amassed them, just the way I’d dreamed of doing.
My collection grew to the point where it became too large for any house we could afford to live in. When I got my job four years ago at the University of Nottingham, they gave me a very generous-sized office. And so my husband and I agreed that this is where my books should live. Okay, sure, there are still some books back at home. You know, a few that I haven’t read yet. A small number that are my very favourites. The odd one that I feel I might need, in the middle of the night, faced with a word-based emergency.
The problem is that I recently got a new job, at De Montfort University. This is not a short drive from home and, although I could house some of my books there, these would not be as easily accessible to me as mine currently are. I’m left with a bit of a problem. Last night, I investigated all of the places I could sell them, or give them away, the financial difference between these two things being so small as to be hardly worth thinking about.
I came to work this morning with resolve. I would begin the long process of sorting out my books. I would choose the ones I really wanted to keep. The ones I *needed*. I would finally, ultimately, rationalise my book ownership and keep just that reasonable number of those that were really, genuinely important to me, or yet to be read. And I would give the rest away.
If you’ve read as many stories as I have, and seen as many films, you’re probably (like me) one of those irritating people who nearly always knows what will happen next (except with Game of Thrones). You perhaps don’t even need to be that experienced with stories to guess in this particular case.
Reader, it was a disaster.
I began by taking down around a quarter of my ‘memoir’ shelf. Reluctantly, I put the doorstop tomes about Alan Sugar and Richard Branson to the side, onto the ‘to go’ pile. I’d inherited these books somewhere along the way. I will never read them, I know that. I knew I wanted to keep Rogue Trader, Bringing Down the House, Angela’s Ashes and The Glass Castle. Those between, I hesitated over and, finally, placed on the pile I was keeping.
Then I put all the books back on my shelf and went for coffee. Which is where I am as I write this post. I do not know what will happen to my books. I do not know if I’ll ever find the strength to sort through them, or give *any* away. But I do know one thing. I believe in books and I believe in the power of story to help us transcend our human condition and become something better. Or as a fairly well known writer once said:
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”
James Walker in Nottingham has been running a project this year called Dawn of the Unread, which attempts to ‘resurrect’ the dead writers of Nottingham and draw a bit of attention to the plight of our local libraries. It’s fun, it’s clever and it’s innovative. Read more about it here.
Better still, if you live in or near to Nottingham, join us midday on Saturday in the Market Square for a flash mob with a difference. I’ll be there. I might even give you some