I used to own 2,000 books. Slightly more than that, actually. I had all kinds of books: hard covers, paperbacks, trade paperbacks, literary fiction, writing and grammar books, books of photography, self-help books, my dead father’s collection of old medical journals, genre fiction, those cute little pop-up books, you name it.
I had shelves and shelves and more shelves of books, some of which I’d actually read, and many of which I’d read someday; you know, whenever I got around to it. Who was I kidding?
I thought my overflowing shelves of books made me look important and intelligent and cool. Look at me, I know how to read—a lot!
What’s worse, I thought these books made me somebody. They were a part of my identity. Thus, those books were a part of me. And once something’s a part of your identity—once it becomes a part of you—it’s incredibly hard to shed.
This is true for anything we incorporate into our identities—our careers, our cars, our homes, our possessions, our sentimental items, our silly DVD collections. These things become part of us, and they become incredibly pernicious anchors in our lives, anchors that keep at bay, away from the freedom of the open seas.
Ironically, three quotes from a particular book I owned— Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club—are what inspired me to get rid of the vast majority of my books a little over a year ago:
“Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions.”
“The things you own end up owning you.”
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
These words resonated with me deeply. I could feel on my nerve-endings what Palahniuk was saying. I read those quotes several times and within a week sold or donated 98% of my books. I purchased a Kindle and kept one shelf of my favorite physical books.
Then, last month I got rid of those books too. I kept the four grammar books I’m using to teach my online writing class, all four of which I reference regularly, but that’s it.
Some older books aren’t yet on Kindle, which is a shame. In those rare cases, I’ll get the book elsewhere—a public library, a local independent bookstore, online—and when I’m done reading it, I’ll donate it.
Now, I no longer own piles of books, but I read more than before. I enjoy each book, taking them in slowly, absorbing the knowledge, processing the information, contemplating their lessons. But I needn’t retain the physical book to get value from its words.
Think about it. How much value was I placing in those dusty 2,000 books I owned. Obviously, it was far more than their real value. The real value was in the words—in the action of reading—not in the physical books themselves.
There is no value in having a room full of books you don’t need—especially when other people can get value from those books. You’re so much more than your stuff. Even when you’re in an empty room, the value is within you, not your things.
Our friends at Spyr Media shot us in the face during the third leg of our meetup tour (thankfully they were just using cameras). You can check out Spyr Media’s photos from those meetups. There are a bunch of pictures of the many hugs exchanged during the tour, as well as a few pics of Joshua and Ryan signing someone’s Kindle with a Sharpie (no joke).