In the "Paperback Row" section of last Sunday's Times Book Review I saw a small squib for a book called The Man Who Loved Books too Much. It described the work (which I haven't read) as "a series of fascinating vignettes about how the love of books can turn to madness, sometimes eccentric, sometimes sociopathic." I'll admit that description sent a tiny frisson down my spine. While some might accuse me of being a bit eccentric from time to time, I don't think I'm actually sociopathic. But I do know how loving books can verge on hoarding behavior. I still have all my college English course texts, many of them in those Holt, Rinehart and Winston paperback editions--green for English novels, brown for American. I also have all my lit crit texts, except for those my sister "borrowed" years ago that are now in her bookcases. As I scan the shelves I see rows and rows of titles I remember loving even if I can't remember exactly what was in them. I have done two or three purges over the years as things in my small apartment reached critical mass, but it's never been easy. I have no problem parting with clothes I know I'll never wear again, but parting with books I'll never reread (even ones I never read in the first place) is different. They don't go out of style (although some might argue with that as well), and they'll always fit me, no matter how much weight I gain or lose.
When I go to someone's house for the first time, I almost always catch myself scanning their shelves. Seeing what's in someone's library can be very revealing. And if they don't have any books--well that's a whole other story, as they say. But all of that may be changing at this very moment with the growing popularity of the e-reader. I've always bought books rather than borrowing them. I've always wanted to own the object. So I can understand the reluctance of people who say they don't have, or want to have, an e-reader because they want to hold the book, feel it's weight, turn the pages, etc. Had you asked me, I'd probably have said the same thing--until I got my Kindle. Now I look upon it not only as a source of instant gratification (I can acquire almost any book any time anywhere in about 30 seconds) but also as a savior from my book hoarding behavior. Now, when I finish a book I can archive it in what I've come to call Kindle heaven and get it back at any time, but I don't have to find a place for it on a shelf or add it to a stack on the floor. I can indulge my love of books to my heart's content without fear of becoming a candidate for the A&E series Hoarder. It's different. I will no longer be able to reconnect with a book I read twenty years ago by seeing the jacket spine from across the room. But I still have plenty of those (some would say more than enough), and I'm learning to just "get over it."