Recently, I volunteered to help at my library’s annual book sale.  People donate their used (sometimes never-used) books to be sold to raise money for the library, or if the book fills a hole in the library’s catalog, the library can keep it,  Anyway, one day was spent unloading the boxes and bags of books that came in during the year and the next day was spent trying to sell the inventory.  Part of the sale inventory consisted of books that had not sold the year before, and it turns out that each year, the number of books returned to storage because they did not sell grows larger.  The people in charge try to find charities to take the books and distribute them, but most seem to be overrun already with books that no-one wants to buy. Used bookstores had probably already turned down most of the books that were donated to our sale.  So, my question is, why are books multiplying?

I am a book person, with a house that is jammed with books.  Bob built me bookcase after bookcase after bookcase, until finally he refused to build me anymore because we just plain ran out of room for them.  I used to belong to two different book clubs and never have been able to pass a bookstore and not buy a book or two.  I also have a slight problem when it comes to letting go of my books, and that is why my collection grew and grew and grew.  But when Bob refused to enable me any further, I stopped buying books and started borrowing them from the library.  What a joy!  Free books.  I even have my own personal librarian (my sister), who finds and orders books for me to pick up at my local library.  All I ever have to do is read them.  It truly is a marvelous system.

With one small little problem.  I still have my collection.  For a while, I set a goal of giving away or selling to a used-book store at least ten books each month.  I was able to do that, for a while, but they do not take book club books and those comprise a large part of my collection.  Sometimes, I will have a yard sale (you know all about that!) and include books.  My Little Free Library helps circulate a few of my books, although people are taking and bringing books to it on a fairly regular basis, so I have not really been able to find room to add many of mine to it.  But, letting go of my books is really quite difficult.  I look at a possible go-away book and think, well, I will just read it once more and then I will let it go.  So now I have a whole lot of library books to read, plus I have my book collection to re-read.  This is not working out well.

When I retired from professoring, I did the expedient thing.  I simply boxed up my rather large collection of texts, references and interesting books and sent them off to the University Library without asking if they would take them.  As I did that at the very last moment, they had nowhere to return them.  I don’t know if they kept them, sold them, or gave them away.  I just hope they didn’t burn them.

But that brings me back to my point.  What does one do with books that need to be gone from where they are?  I think of books as precious things, to be cherished.  But there are so many of them! And now, books are not really books anymore, they are E-books (although I read recently that real books are making a comeback, just like vinyl records–real records!).  Used-book stores are jammed.  Libraries can clearly not use or sell even a small number of the books that are donated to them each year.  I browse magazines that show how to “craft” a hiding place for valuables by hollowing out a book and re-placing it on the shelf.  I cringe when I think of the desecration!  It’s almost worse than burning.

OK, I get it.  Books are, in the end, just things.  Theoretically, we need just one of each, not thousands or millions of copies.  But even junk books are valuable, in my mind.  You can find thought gems in the sleaziest of books.  How will we learn about the world, the universe, people, things, anything at all without books?  People can come to my place and see my library, and know a little about me based on the books I have chosen to read and keep to read again.  However,  I do need to downsize, and I know that my next abode will not be big enough for both me and the books.  Some of them will simply have to go.  The only question is, where?  Drop them off on the library steps in the dead of night, and slink away?  Oh, my.


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