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February 28, 2013

The Bookshelf Dilemma

by Michael Langlois

This is the bookshelf in my office.  When we moved in, this was a blank wall.  The room had no shelves of any kind.  Hell, no closet either.  So we had this built across one entire wall, with deep cabinets underneath to hold my board games and zombie heads.  As is proper.

It’s hard to see from this picture, but each shelf is double stacked, with a row of books behind the ones you can see.  There are more books, naturally, stacked all over the place: next to the bed, in the bathroom, on the kitchen counter, but this is where the ones I want to keep track of generally are.  It’s where people who visit eventually end up, eyes roving up and down and side to side, looking for something good to borrow.

To me, that’s the best part of having a bookshelf.  I get to pluck stuff off the shelf and talk enthusiastically about the plot or a particular character or whatever.  I get to practically re-live the book while talking about it.  Usually it’s a book I haven’t seen in some time, and if the person doesn’t borrow it, I’m likely to pick it up myself.

Now for the dilemma.  While I love books, I don’t really think of the physical object itself as a book.  I’m only interested in the word parts.  So, for the last year or so, I’ve been buying ebooks if they’re available.  Sometimes they lag behind the release of something I’m dying to read, so I go ahead and get the paper one, but if I can read something in seconds instead of hours or days, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Which means that my bookshelf isn’t growing like it used to.  There was a time when we had to fill up a trunk full of books to donate or sell at Half Price Books every couple of months, but that’s becoming a lot less common these days.  I can see a time when my bookshelf just stops growing.  It’ll still have my favorites on it, no doubt about that, but more and more the things I recommend to people will be books that I only have electronically.  Either because that’s what I’m enthused about at the moment, or because they’ve already read all the stuff I have on the shelf that they’re interested in.

And that’ll be sad.  I find that while I love to own books, I like sharing them just as much.  It’s a fundamental part of reading culture, this sharing of the books we love, almost like trading bits of our lives with each other.  It’s how I became a reader, and eventually a writer, same as nearly everyone else I know.

So, even as ebooks become more commonplace, don’t forget to share.  If you have a Kindle, you can still lend your books to a friend. Same thing if you own a Nook.  And check with your local library, you’ll be surprised at how many lend ebooks as well.

Speaking as both a reader and a guy who sells books for rent money, I encourage you to lend your books.

I want to see a hell of a lot less of this and more of this.  Much more.

Read more from Blog Posts, Essays

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