Don't Let Your Bookshelf Define You

Gaze upon these technical books and tremble at the depth of my knowledge! Look upon this classic literature and know that I am cultured! Peer at these non-fiction books and submit to my worldliness!

When you're a book-lover, it can be difficult to avoid being consumed by your collection. The books we've read become a part of us - they have filled us with knowledge and experiences, and enriched our lives. Every book we read leaves something of itself behind. A bookshelf is a trophy case, a shrine dedicated to the knowledge we have consumed. We proudly display our trophies of past conquests, praying that our guests will comment on our display, glowing with pride every time our gaze falls upon the stacks.

Fear me! Slayer of Words! Eater of Fantasy! Conqueror of Truth! The Devouring One!

It kind of gets to your head.


Sometimes, we proudly display trophies that haven't even been earned. How many of us have supposedly wonderful classic books that we've never cracked open? Pop-sci books that we've never read beyond the first chapter? Textbooks we never used in school? When we let books become a trophy, we open ourselves up to (perceived) judgement. Our bookshelves are never clever enough, or worldly enough, or philosophical enough. We stuff our shelves with things we will never read because we can't bear face the fact that we really do just have trashy taste.

Books are a problem. It's very easy to get emotionally attached to books - either individual books (I'll never let go of my copy of Watership Down) or just the concept of having books. People get very angry and defensive when someone dares suggest that people pare down their book collection. I read Apartment Therapy, which has a community that seems to be particularly susceptible to this attachment. Publishing the words "own too many" combined with the word "books" is like touching a flame to a bomb fuse. They rally around a cry of, "You'll pry my books from my cold, dead hands, you bookless heathens!"

How many books can we really love? You know that saying where you can only ever manage one hundred social connections? Or that thing where you can only hold seven simultaneous thoughts at once? There has to be an upper limit the the number of books that a person can devote their love to. There's a finite number of books in a collection that we will re-read. There's a finite number of books that have a special meaning. Everything else just takes up space that could be filled with things we love and use.

It's okay to let go of the references you never reference. It's alright to donate the classics you'll never read. We book-lovers can learn to look at our collections as made up of individual items, rather than as a single object that defines us and owns us. I've done it. It was hard. I was ruthless. But my book shelf now represents my tastes far more than it ever did before the culling.

Gaze upon my sci-fi collection and know that it is loved! Look upon my board games and know that they are played! Peer into my mouse cage and know that I love these living things!

Fear me! Slayer of terrible bestselling fiction! Destroyer of crusty classic lit! Eliminator of outdated textbooks! The Organized One!
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"Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."