Growing up my parents had books all over the place. Both my sisters and I had our own bookshelves for our rooms. I believe I became a reader in high school from finding Robert B. Parker paperbacks that my parents read years prior to my findings. I still think this is a good way to grow up, and if I ever have a family I’d buy books, even though now I exclusively use the library for books to read. My views on owning books has developed but when I was in college and afterwards when I worked at a Barnes & Noble I placed importance on having a book collection.
For a couple of years and especially during the 2001 holiday season I went ape with the holiday discount for staff members at the Barnes & Noble I worked for. Living with my parents in Toledo and working near 40 hours a week for a low wage I think I had more disposable income than I do know. With rent, student loans, and credit card debt I wouldn’t think of dropping 400 bucks on discounted books. That was the total that year, 400, and I purchased mostly classics. As my hold boxes at the store got more and more stuffed I stated it might take me years to read them a coworker sarcastically said, ‘you won’t read all of those in your lifetime.’ Anna Karenina, The Republic, Atlas Shrugged, Ulysses, and The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant are among the ambitiously literary titles that I purchased in 2001 and have not got around to reading yet. The Beautiful and the Damned, Tess of the D’urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, and The Satanic Verses are some of the books I purchased that year and that I’m glad I read. In college, before the bookstore days, I became an English major after being an undeclared major, and probably mostly read books in college for the courses I took. I attribute working in the bookstore and then my career as a librarian for having read more than I did in 2001. I think a lot of English majors end up in careers unrelated to books, and it is no longer a part of their lives. I feel fortunate and motivated that I can immerse myself in books. Writing is optional, but reading necessary for me.
In 2001 I was testing the waters with the library degree by taking one distance learning class (later I moved to Kent State to finish my degree) and I very much wanted to be well read. I enjoyed my undergrad classes at University of Toledo, and wanted to continue that. I also lived with my parents up until then and I had weird ideas when I moved out to my own apartment what I should have. Most of my friends’ apartments, my parents’ friends, and everyone seemed to have bookshelves. So that year and the couple of following years, until I moved to New York City basically, I decided I would have a bookshelf, were a guest could see and be impressed by my reading tastes.
So when I moved to Kent State I had a full bookshelf. Yes it was a bookshelf painted blue and a left over from my or my siblings’ childhood but I was happy that it was full. I was a cultured grad student and people would be impressed by my books. I think it was Tim, my current roommate, or someone else in my program with writing ambitions looked at my bookshelf. I was pleased until I was asked about three or four books in a row from my shelf that I did not read. I felt stupid and quickly changed the conversation to books that I did read on my shelf. The whole interaction was only about five minutes, but got me thinking. I still had the notion that a personal book collection was a good thing to have. Even when I worked as a page at the Kent Free Library I would drive to Cleveland suburbia sprawl and purchase books. At Kent State I formulated the notion that having a bookshelf was not enough, that you had to have a bookshelf that represented your tastes and what you have read. If I move into a nice apartment or something permanent like a mortgage I might invest in that. I have a handy book log from 2005 to present and a goodreads profile, so I could buy a shelf of my favorite books.
Since 2004 I’ve been a librarian and right away I shifted gears and started checking out books. For a couple of years I would buy books only for gifts and I’ve done that less lately too. I guess it’s out of convenience that I can check out books during work, and Queens Library, my employer, has most books I would ever want to read. Also, I noticed in this timeframe I have read a lot more than anytime in my life. Even the times in my life when I worked part-time and went to school part-time I read less. The reason is the timeframe, you have three weeks to read a book, and in most cases I read it within that time or with a renewal or two. On the rare occasion that I’ve bought a book, I simply lay it on my bookshelf and then forget about it. Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite contemporary authors, and I didn’t read Plague of Doves until a year after I bought it. I think before I was librarian and checked things out, I would think of my bookshelf books as being mine forever, and I would eventually get to reading them. Reading with a deadline is better.
Lastly, having a bookshelf to impress others is kind of silly. In my previous apartment that had more room, we had some parties with co-workers. One of them we had about 15 or so young librarians, and between beers I would glance over to the lonely bookshelf. No one mentioned my books, and I did not observe anyone looking them over carefully. I think that only aspiring writers look over bookshelves when they are guests, and they are judging.
So I will keep this bookshelf that has a history with me but I hardly look at. However, like I said in the first paragraph, I will not invest money toward a personal book collection until I have a family or a mortgage.