Why I own few books despite my love of reading

Date: January 20 2019

This guy must be suffering from an addiction to books. This is no way to live:

Stalagmites of books rose from the living room floor. Streams of books converged into rivers that emptied into oceans of literature.

Washington Post
Jan 10 2019

Like many addicts, he does not want to admit that he has a problem. He asserts that going through his books to determine which to keep and which to donate is a futile exercise. He believes that he acquires more books at a faster rate than he could possibly go through them. The problem with this belief is that he has a finite space in which to store his books. A high rate of acquiring new books should increase the urgency he feels to cull his existing library.

When culling a library, one should examine each book individually. The key question to ask oneself is: "Is this book doing the most amount of good by sitting on my shelf?" There are likely other places which would put the book to better use. The kind of book that does no one any good at all is the book which goes unread by its owner. An endless pile of books which have gone unread and which only grows is big a problem. That Washington Post piece is objecting to eliminating precisely this kind of pile whether its author acknowledges it or not.

I do want to stress that books must be donated. Never should they be thrown away. No book is trash.[1] Every tome is sacred.There are many organizations that will happily put a book to good use. Of course, public libraries will often gladly accept book donations. Other options include charitable organizations which give books to prisons or to Africa.

I must admit — despite books-as-information being wonderful — that books-as-physical-objects are annoying. They take up a lot of space. They are heavy. When moving, they must be packed into tiny, heavy boxes. Reading a lot of books is held in high esteem, yet owning a lot of books does not seem to me to be a very enviable position.

The promise of e-book devices [2] is that you can hold entire libraries worth of books in your hand. They eliminate the need to deal with the weight and the space taken up by physical books. This benefit is especially noticeable while travelling. However, there are many downsides to e-books. You may discover that you do not really own some e-books only when they disappear from your library. Digital Restrictions Management may encumber some e-books that. DRM makes difficult or impossible some tasks that are routine with physical books. Authoritarian regimes may levy technology for censorship or to persecute political dissidents. I do not see physical books going away any time soon.

Both using electronic books and owning physical books present problems. Thus, the best solution is to borrow physical books. The obvious place from which to borrow books is the library. I find that there are many benefits from borrowing library books. I have a set time limit in which to read the book. This time limit is enough to prevent an ever increasing pile of unread books. I get access to an extensive catalog while bearing none of the associated costs.

Of course, the library is not free. Local taxes pay for it. I am lucky to live in a place with a good public library system. Others may not be quite so lucky. You may find a book you want missing from your public library's catalog. There is no sense in depriving yourself of it rather than buying it in that case. You may find it in the catalog but that all the copies checked out. In those cases, you would do well to be patient. There are other books for you to read until a copy again becomes available.

You should own some books. But if your house is overflowing with them, you probably own too many. A critical look at your collection could free up a lot of mental and physical space. Your life may be richer with more trips to the library and fewer books in your home.

1. Here, I do exclude certain "books". For example, those with missing or damaged pages, or whose binding is falling apart. At some point, such a book is no longer a book.

2. such as the kindle, so called because that is what it wants to do to your physical books