This article in the New York Times describes the quandary of a journalist who is planning to move across the country. He has hundreds of books, but he also has most of his recent books on an e-reader. So what should he do with the paper books? Do they stay or go?
Honestly, the e-reader isn’t really the issue. I have an e-reader, which means I haven’t bought many print books in the last two years, but I still buy them, and I still have shelves upon shelves of books. If I were to move across the country, which would I take? The e-reader makes my life a little easier but doesn’t change the conversation.
In this article, the author describes one of his colleagues as “horror-stricken” that he might not move his books. This touched a nerve for me, so let me just say this — those of us with e-readers do not love our print books any less than those of you without e-readers. We are not killing the printed word. I still buy a weekend newspaper because I believe in supporting the Times. I still shop in used bookstores. I didn’t kill Borders with my Kindle — their poor customer service and lack of character did.
If I were moving I would think about how much space I have, how many bookcases I can fill, and then I would think about which books I’d want on those shelves. Because in addition to their literary or entertainment value, print books are important for at least two reasons: they make the very best kind of home decoration, and they show visitors who you are. Admit it, aren’t bookshelves the first thing you check out when you’re visiting someone’s home? So you’d keep the books that reflect something about you as a person. Maybe you don’t do this consciously, but I bet it would happen anyway.
Before I had an e-reader, most of my fiction went to Goodwill about 3 times a year. There just isn’t much reason to keep fiction paperbacks unless you love them and want to reread them. I’d rather circulate books to people who can’t afford the full price. Even if I love a book, I usually end up passing it along to friend or family anyway. I’d keep just my absolute favorites, especially classics that I know are worth a reread. I’d also keep the piles of books I mean to read but haven’t yet (unless I really think I won’t).
I read mostly fiction but I tend to keep more nonfiction. I’d keep my favorite cookbooks, but get rid of the shelf of outdated health/fitness/medical books. I have a whole shelf of travel books that can be discarded– these are mostly books about trips we’ve taken, but some are trips we hope to take. By the time we do, the version we own will be out of date (right now that includes Australia, Argentina and Ireland). These are not travel literature, by the way, just your regular Frommers and such. I would keep my books about cat care but probably get rid of most of my books about not having children. That ship has sailed, so to speak.
I’d keep most nice hardback books, especially books with illustrations like our set of Harry Potters. I would of course keep all my collectible children’s books and anything signed. I would keep the biographies I own but may never read of personal heroes Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Seuss and L. Frank Baum. I’d keep our collection of design-related books for their beautiful illustrations (Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, etc.)
So you see, my e-reader has very little impact on the conversation for me. Most of what’s on my Kindle are the kind of books I would pack up for Goodwill anyway. But I enjoyed the chance to think about my books and how I would make those decisions, and which are the books that are most important to me.
So if you were moving across the country, what stays, and what goes?