I was in my early 40’s before I truly began to understand the migratory nature of books. They need to move; it’s their job. It finally sank in that they shouldn’t be left sitting on a shelf in a dark room, gathering silverfish and foxing, but should be out meeting and greeting as many people as possible for as long as their binding holds them together. A bit like traveling salesmen, I guess.
Since that revelation, I have begun to slowly disassemble my collection. I’ve reduced it by half and still, especially on rainy days, I pull the remainders from the shelves, re-read, and search for reasons to let them go. There are those that I skip, of course, because I know I will never turn them loose willingly. But slowly their companions are thinning out.
One of the pitfalls of working in a library is the temptation to read every book that crosses your path. That means that many of the books I’ve hand-selected for myself over the years are sitting on my shelf unread. They have taken a back seat because they have no specific return date. When and if I ever get to them, many of them will follow the others out into the world.
I sometimes think about the books I’ve owned and wonder where they are and how many lives they have touched. I hope they are out on the street, drumming up new business.
If you are interested in sending your already-read books out to do their work, but just can’t seem to let them go before reinforcements arrive, there are a number of book swapping sites springing up around the world. If your books are not under guard or if your shelves aren’t booby-trapped with poison-tipped arrows or falling anvils, you might enjoy the trend. Here are a few sites to check out. Maybe some of your old friends will turn up again in the exchange.
And, if you begin to feel totally deprived, don’t forget our Friends of the Library bookstores, where you can re-stock those sad, empty shelves at a fraction of the original cost. You might even find a few with my name pencilled on the flyleaf.