Rachel Kramer Bussel on book hoarding.
I’ve been rolling this story over in my head since I read it yesterday morning, especially as it came on the tail of a conversation with peninsulamamoenam about buying books, owning books, and (in my case) moving books. Books are objects in many senses: stories to read, beautiful, tactile things to look at and hold, aides de memoire, promises of the future. I buy them for many reasons, not only to read, and in all of my many moves I’ve carried at least some of them with me, lugging their physical heft because of their emotional weight.
I’ve inherited a lot of things from my family: my dad’s constant assertion that books, above all objects, are always worth buying; a tradition of sharing books and valuing the ability to make a good book recommendation to someone you love; my mom’s love of a bargain which sends us both into the dark corners of used book shops. However, I may also claim from them some not-terribly-responsible budgeting habits and the belief that anything has to potential to, eventually, be useful and therefore should not be thrown away.
My mom’s a hoarder. It wasn’t so bad when I was younger — fun, sometimes, even, because there’s always something interesting tucked away in a corner — but it’s now at levels which are troubling and scary. And that specter hangs over me: every new book (or pair of shoes, or dress, or or or) gives me the rush, the pleasure, the promise, but also the lurking uncertainty. At what point do your possessions go from being cozy, comforting, impressive to being invasive, overwhelming, oppressive? How many books? 1000? 2000? Does it matter how many you’ve read (conquered, devoured, challenged) or how many linger as promises or threats?
I haven’t come up with any answers. I have discovered about myself that I seek, by filling my space with objects familiar and loved, to create a sense of permanence in the transitory. With each move (11 in 10 years; 5 cities; 3 states; 3 countries; 4 universities) I add to my belongings and thus to my sense of self. I’ve started over in brand-new cities, places where I didn’t know a single soul, four times now, and the only way that’s tenable for me is to carry with me my little shell-home of things, to nestle in and fill my walls and my shelves, to extend myself as far as the borders of my little apartment (or dorm room, or bedsit) and thus claim and declare my presence.