Friday, December 08, 2006

Too Many Books

Today I walked through the home of someone I must assume has recently deceased. I, along with anyone else who cared to stop in, picked through a housefull of things hoping to find something that ticked my fancy, nothing in particular, but anything of interest. It was a large home in East Grand Rapids, a quaint and affluent suburb with a downtown known as the Gaslight District, although "district" may be a tad generous, size-wise.

The first thing I noticed upon walking in was a certain staleness. The place looked like it hadn't been signifcantly redecorated in 30 or more years. It reminded me of my childhood in more ways than one. In one of the bedrooms were some toys. I recognized a Tonka truck that bears a resemblance to a Jeep Wrangler, and big enough for a young child to sit upon and push around on. There were some Tigers posters from the early 80's and also posters advertising the 1984 Olympics. In another room were a few more posters featuring 80's model sportscars, the kind of posters I liked as a young boy.

In the basement there was the remains of a mostly deconstructed photography darkroom. A sign reading "Sold" was taped to the door frame and a middle-aged guy was moving it out one piece at a time. I couldn't resist a closer look, and he hardly wasted a second to tell me what I already knew from the posting.

But far and away what filled this house were books and records. In almost every room was a collection of some sort. The records were mostly classical and opera and the books were mostly non-fiction of a liberal arts/social science bent. It was mobidly fascinating to go through these remnants of a life and try to picture the people who had lived in this home. Plato's dialogues, an early biography of Bill Clinton, photography books, Black studies, Christianity studies, there were likely thousands of books spread thoughout this home. When added to all the recorded music, I speculated that no one person had the time to digest this much media.

Now, over the past years I have come to accept as a personal mantra the slogan "curb your consumption," but the exception was always music and books. Today, I am rethinking that exception. Too me, all these books and all this vinyl just seemed to take up space. Don't get me wrong, I love books and records, but how could anyone possibly appreciate all this? There was just too much. But at the same time, I understand.

I have records and books that I haven't listened to or read in years, and may very well never again, yet I continue to lug them around in boxes every couple of years. Even books I haven't cracked are kept on hand, even though I am resigned to the fact that they will quite likely remain unread. In fact, I could count on one hand the number of books I've read more than once. So what gives?

I wish sometimes I could part ways with these artifacts of time gone by (especially because I know I could get a pretty penny for some of those rare 12"s), but because they are just that, I can't. With that in mind, I'm going to try to strengthen my resolve to use restraint at the bookstore, and to do my best to finish each book I begin.

Here's a post on antipixel in which I find solace.


Anonymous Jeremy said...

Hmm, I was talking about the "too many books" problem with a co-worker yesterday.

What I came to realize, but didn't actually say, is that I like to envision myself as a wizened old man sitting in a room in my house. A library room with book shelves from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. And the books, and music, and other artifacts in that room will be at my disposal as I allot bits of knowledge to those who seek my wisdom. And after I'm gone, they will serve as something of a tombstone.

For example, say you were at the tombstone of the person whose house you were just in: "Heavy B. Reader; Jan 1, 1929 - Nov 19, 2006." Not much of a legacy. But you enter that house, and you see those books, and you get a true sense of what that person was all about.

Some of my more treasured books are ones that belonged to a relative.

9:09 AM  

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