OverREADERS Anonymous?

Perusing HOUZZ yesterday, this article’s very title compelled me to read it:

not my books!

The story of “Not my Precious Books!” begins with a conversation:

“Years ago I was chatting with an acquaintance, and she referred to a weekly meeting she attended without naming it. I asked her what it was.

‘Overreaders Anonymous,’ she said.

I froze. I had no idea there was such a 12-step group, but if anyone was an overreader, I knew I was. And then my auditory memory caught up with my fervid imagination, and I realized she had actually said, ‘Overeaters,’ and I resumed breathing.”

Like author Alison Hodgson, reading is my drug of choice. I must say, in my defense, much that has been amassed over the years interests me still: favorite authors, authoritative texts on history, fascinating biographies. For the most part, my books ARE books that I cherish and dip into, and yes (sometimes) re-read.

But what of those “lesser” books, those piled and hidden out of sight; unwelcomed gifts; or really-wrong purchases. Why are those still in my house?!

Now, I don’t consider myself a HUGE hoarder of books. Probably because I know a couple of people far, far worse! One book-loving friend can – like Hodgson, once – count books in the thousands. She and her book-loving husband amassed a room’s worth on the third floor of their condo, and also had shelving in the dining room, living room, office, and probably places I’ve never even seen. Mine is a quite modest collection, in comparison. (My mother, who owns few books, would beg to differ, but that’s a whole other blog post.) And I wouldn’t give them up for the world. There IS no library nearby with the FULL 6-volumes of The Letters of Mrs Piozzi, for instance. Plus, I’ve painstakingly built up this set over the years to have it “complete”. I have several sets, some purposely bought because they were sold as a unit (not many such sales out there), others are in the act of being built up as volumes come on the used-book market. (A must-must-must-have: dust jackets!)

piozzi letters

So, Alison Hodgson’s list of “Reasons for Holding on to Books” resonates, especially “Reason No. 3“:

It was part of a set. If you are a book collector, you know what I’m talking about.”

Indeed, I do. There’s something about the completeness of a series published in two or four or ten volumes that grabs my attention when I see them on a shelf. I can think of at least two series where I found a “volume one” or “volume two” locally, and hunted for its “matching” companion online. Had I read the book from cover to cover? Possibly not… I just knew I’d want the “set”!

Or, one can take the word “set” loosely: an author pumping out several tomes in succession can also constitute a “set” in my opinion. Think “All Creatures Great and Small” –> you just gotta have ’em all!

But remember, I’ve those piles beside an upstairs chair; another pile beside a set of shelves (actually, I think that one became tall enough to be divided into two piles, side-by-side). Those books are not parts of sets; I don’t think many of them were gifts; quite a few were remaindered hardcovers (i.e., bargains too good to pass up); one has an author’s signature.

There are a few that sounded good… But here I must confess a story behind the keeping of those: On vacation, in Paris, a decade or more ago, I had brought along a book (as I always do) — I just could not get past the first couple of pages. A year or so later, I took the book off the shelf; this time I devoured it! A fabulous read, well-written, fantastically-researched. The history of a handful of letters that opened up the life-story of a 19th century Frenchwoman. (Post a comment, if you wish to know the title & author.)

So, among these books that I’ve hated… perhaps one really IS a jewel in the rough – and I was just missing that interest-of-the-moment which sparks the reader-to-book connection.

Or else it is just a dud, taking up space, collecting dust.

But: I remember a travel book, set in the 1950s or 1960s, that I picked up for a song at a local used bookstore. It was “o-kay”. Nothing more. Didn’t I see it later, in a catalogue that I used to love receiving in the mail because of the spotlight it put on books that the press sometimes reprinted. There was that same travelogue! Reprinted (i.e., in paperback; mine was the original hardcover printing), and selling for 1000% more. As I write, I relive the moment in my mind’s eye, when I dipped into the paperbag of discards and retrieved that book: if it was good enough to reprint decades later, perhaps it was a better book than I originally thought. (Confession No. 2: I’ve never cracked it open again…)

I have to chuckle over Hodgson’s Reason No. 2 for keeping books: Sentimentality. She, like me, has the first copy of Pride and Prejudice that she ever read. I remember its purchase well because I bought it after watching the 1980 BBC version, with Elizabeth Garvey and David Rintoul (still a favorite); one unwieldy volume with all the Jane Austen novels. Lovely drawings, like subtle silhouettes, herald the start of each novel. Who could part with such a treasure, even as I move on to the complete set (note that phrase!) of the Chapman edition of Jane Austen novels.

Alison Hodgson asks,

  • Do I love it?
  • Will I read it again?

To that I would add: “Would I be tempted to buy it again, not remembering that I read it already because I got rid of it?” If the answer to that question is “yes” – then save yourself some money, and pull the chair a little further from the wall (nice hiding place). Remember, too, that while it’s better to give than receive, you’ll possibly only receive a limp “buck” for that hardcover you paid full-price for. Far better to donate! Find a good cause.

To All Readers,
Best Wishes for a Book-filled 2014!

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