Living without my books

February 19, 2015 at 7:06 am 12 comments

IMAG0470Once upon a time, not too long ago, there lived a girl who believed that living without stuffed bookshelves was a form of intellectual and interior design death. She silently judged apartments that had no bookshelves and flushed with happiness at ones that barely had room to walk amidst the piles of books and teetering shelves.

Then, reality check: the girl moved to a small island and left behind 80% of her belongings, including all her books, in a storage unit on the mainland. This was considered a temporary and distressing situation and the girl firmly believed she would be reunited with her beloved books in three months’ time.

Well, I’m here on the other side of nine months to tell you that that didn’t happen and I, the girl who couldn’t imagine living without books, have been doing so with surprising contentedness for that whole time. I don’t have any bookshelves in my current space, nor did I in any of the other places I’ve lived since moving to Nantucket, and I keep what few books I do have on the mantlepiece in my bedroom.

Those mantlepiece books are a collection of favorites that came with me from New York and a random assortment I’ve acquired or been given since moving here. There are only about twenty books in all, some of which I’ve read and some of which are still on the TBR list, and I find that I don’t miss the rest of my collection at all. (Or, at least, very rarely. And usually when missing a very particular tome rather than the collection as a whole.)

In living apart from most of my books, I’ve discovered that there are actually benefits to doing so:

1. I use the library so much more.
Without the pressure to read all the books I already own, I’m freer to read anything. And what better place to read anything at all than the library? This is my favorite side effect by far and the idea that I can read any book I want FOR FREE has yet to get old. I don’t have to worry about cost, space, or even aesthetics: any book I want to read is in and out of my life with no hassle at all except the lovely walk to and from the stacks.

2. Moving is much easier.
I’ve moved eight times since I came to Nantucket in May 2014. Believe me, making moving easier is now a vital part of my life. So not having 20+ boxes of books to pack and unpack is a big plus.

3. Book acquisition is a much more serious endeavor.
Whereas before I would buy books with fairly gay abandon (pocketbook allowing, of course), I am now much more thoughtful about what I need and want to own. Why hello, disposable income!

I’m not going to lie to you and say that I don’t still drool over interiors packed with books. Nor can I honestly say living without books is my long-term life plan. Far from it! When I finally settle somewhere, I intend to be as surrounded by the written word as is humanly possible.

But, at the same time, I’m really enjoying trying out this more minimalist approach to books. My ability to adapt to it has surprised me and the unanticipated side effects are proving pretty great.

So how about you, dear readers? Do you live amongst books or in a relatively book-free zone?


Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: , , , , .

The Cormoran Strike novels The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dagny  |  February 19, 2015 at 10:00 am

    I hear that! Many years ago my husband traveled in his work and we would stay in any one town from two weeks to several months depending on the size of the town and the work to be done. Libraries were a life-saver. Then, when the traveling was over, the books slowly accumulated. Living in one house for around twenty years, produced a few thousand books which has now, a couple of moves later been reduced to around three hundred.

    • 2. Corey  |  February 19, 2015 at 10:11 am

      Go libraries! It’s somewhat gratifying to know that one can still be a bookworm without a personal library of one’s own surrounding at all times.

      And my goodness, you must have gotten so efficient had packing up and unpacking and that whole cycle. I hope you’re loving your current three hundred now that you’re more settled in.

      • 3. Dagny  |  February 19, 2015 at 10:41 am

        Yes, most of my keepers are collections of favorite authors, biographies and a few volumes of poetry.

  • 4. Kate  |  February 19, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Oh my god, you have moved eight times since May? I’m stunned! I promise to stop complaining immediately. God, I must be insufferable to listen to.

    Ireland was like that for me — I arrived with very few books and ended up needing to ship a box or two of them home. They just…accumulate, it seems, no matter what.

    Right now, all of my books are packed pending the discovery/purchase of the perfect bookshelves. I really do miss the entire collection — not only the possibilities of reading that they represented (Why is The Crocodile on the Sandbank packed when all I want is a fun mystery?!) but also the color they brought to a room, the conversation they could pique, the way they reflect who I am as a person and as a reader.

    Having my books take up a large portion of my bedroom and living area reflects the importance they have in my life — much like your bookcases did in New York! I could have perused those for hours and still felt like I learned something new about you based on each book, you know?

    Anyway. “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” So said Cicero, and so say I.

    • 5. Corey  |  February 19, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      SO MUCH MOVING. I’m really over it. But at least it’s just a dwindling amount of my worldly possessions (I keep sending more and more to storage after each move as I get more and more frustrated), rather than everything I own eight times. Small mercies!

      Anyway, you are so right that books-as-decor can be so much more than convenient — I love the conversations they create and what you can learn about someone from their shelves.

      (Also, frankly, what you learn a lot about your visitor, too. Any visitor who beelines for the bookshelves and proceeds to peruse there skyrockets in my estimation!)

      And, ideal bookshelf-wise, I really love IKEA Billy shelves. They aren’t fancy, but the black ones actually look really great when grouped together — particularly with the height extensions.

      When do you think you’ll get your books back? And where are they now? I’m now officially on Team Free Crocodile!!

      • 6. Kate  |  February 20, 2015 at 3:18 pm

        Does it deserve its own hashtag? #teamfreecrocodile They’re all in the garage, so I have access to them, they’re just not out.

        As far as books-as-decor, your family has a knack for this, I think! Your NYC bookshelves, and I remember in Williamsville staring up at those shelves in the family room as we were watching TV or movies or whatever. A lot of those books still stick in my head — She’s Come Undone the most, for whatever reason.

        I will have to look at IKEA! I’m sort of torn — we have a lot of very dark furniture currently, and I want to coordinate but I’m worried more dark wood will bring the room down. Decisions.

        • 7. Corey  |  February 25, 2015 at 1:59 pm

          Aw shucks, thanks! I’m currently weighing my panache for books-as-decor against the hassle it would be to bring them to the island. So far, all I’ve decided is that my cookbooks are 100% coming over. They are must-haves.

          And what color are your walls? If they are a lighter, happy color that could contrast nicely with the dark shelves and bring out the colors of the book spines. You can also paint the back of the bookshelf a cheerful color (bright blue or green? Kind of like this: to alleviate the heaviness of the shelves.


          #teamfreecrocodile forever!

  • 8. Britney  |  February 21, 2015 at 8:31 am

    I didn’t realized you had moved so frequently! I did a huge book purge when I moved almost three years ago and I’ll probably do another one soon (moving again in June). It is so freeing and I have less anxiety about what I’m not reading.

    • 9. Corey  |  February 25, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Totally! It is such a freedom thing. I almost can’t believe I never noticed how much my beloved books were holding me down. Good luck with the move in June! Are you staying in the same neighborhood?

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    […] the ether, apparently. Like Corey, I have moved quite a bit since college — 11 times since 2008, and more than half of those […]

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