Can a Person Have Too Many Books?

Too Many Books - maybeYes. Yes. And  yes. Did I mention I think someone can have too many books? Why the question now? Why the question period? I’m always hearing from friends how many books they own, how many shelves they have, how many TBR (to be read) piles are sitting around. They have  slight whine to them, a “well, what can I do” sort of plea in their voices. The next sentence usually coming from their mouths “oh, I just bought a couple more books that I can’t wait to read”. Well, apparently they can, because they have all those others to wade through first!

I, of course, am the exception. I have no complaint or worry regarding book count. I KNOW I’m so far over the top, I’ve stopped concerning myself about it. I am completely aware I have eons more books than can possibly be necessary. I believe my first indication I was drifting down a road paved with paperbacks, was during my stay at Lorry’s Book Company. I found myself arriving home with books being chucked, books left by reps, books bought, books magically appearing from the manager to me. Most were large table top titles-The Films of Bing Crosby; They Had Faces Then; Pennsylvania Railroad photographs; Colleen Moore’s Dollhouse. The railroad was for my dad, the dollhouse for my mom, but still, they had to be warehoused in my mini apartment until I saw the genepoolers again, which meant months.


I collected  the oddest things  from Lorry’s–Super Pickle Pop-Up Book, a large paperback with nothing but  NYC building gargoyles, a photo book of people’s personal collections–string, bottle caps, license plates–the individual posed within their passion, and they were stranger than the articles around them. There was no telling what weirdo would be unearthed under piles of untouched books from day to day. And heavens! I hadn’t yet dug through the tunnels downstairs!  So far I found a Victorian theatrical guide, and a WWI book of funny letters from the front ( the mustard gas must have been a laugh riot), plus other various  never seen before or again pieces.

The newly acquired treasures traveled by subway all the way uptown, under the 59th Street Bridge (you know, the song Simon and Garfunkel sung so happily–‘feelin groovy’–they obviously weren’t stuck down in the dark tunnel while warbling) up above Queensboro Plaza,  now called the El, curving around the track finally hitting Astoria, and my stop. Then they’re dragged foot by foot dodging the Greek widows, still in black after a billion years, tripping over tomatoes escaping from the 24 hour fruit market, nearly being hit by obnoxious drivers who believed when the light turned green they were allowed to move, and into my building, heaving the now excruciating heavy burden to my other arm, while using the key to open, not one, but two doors, just to enter, dropping them temporarily as I pulled out a pound of junk mail and bills from the miniscule box over the radiator, and regaining my wind to begin the hike over the alps, or as it was known in my world, climbing the 5 flights of stairs to my apartment.

And so began the long slippery slope of having books, books, and more books. And why am I questioning this reality now? Because I’ve reached a point were books are literally teetering from places not created for their bulk. I have piles in an Armoire, a corner kitchen cupboard, under potted plants, step stools, benches, couches, dog beds. I step on them on my way into bed, and tread on different ones on my way out. The ferrets in my bedroom dislodge at least one free standing pile a day, sometimes they mix it up and flatten them all. The basement  floor houses  long giant deep split cardboard boxes with signed or inscribed advance reading copies. The lounge chair on the porch is littered with plastic bins full of hardcovers, the picnic table is home to warped, curling paperbacks meant to be traded or taken to the library sale, but didn’t make it before the rains came. My euphamistically  named workroom sees added shelves every 6 months, and yet, piles to the left of me, piles to the right of me, to the back, to the front, I’m being overrun by the enemy, and that enemy is my love of  books.

So, time to thin the masses, rifle through the deadbeats and march them out. I know I will never read all of these tomes–some aren’t meant to be read, and before steam starts popping off the pointy parts of peoples heads, what I mean by that is they are children’s illustrated books and I have them for the gorgeous artists plates within. I don’t need to reread Cinderella, unless there’s new ending and instead of living happily ever after she takes him to the cleaners and wins the castle, it’s contents, and the glass slipper in the divorce settlement. Most of the workroom consists of this genre of book. I scan and upload the pictures to flickr and use them for jewelry. There ‘s no chance I’ll decrease the population here.

What about those piles in the bedroom? Well, one is full of fabtastic sideshow and carny mysteries, fiction, histories–those must stay–I’m enthralled by the culture. Come on, you aren’t enamored of Lobster Boy and the Tattooed Lady? Of course, my mother’s small childhood bookcase may have some contenders–oh, no, those are old jacketless copies of Doubleday crime club books I, uh, give me a minute, let me think–oh! I must read for reviews, yep, that’s the ticket, reviews.

The pile next to the bureau? Nope, that’s the 3rd from the next TBR pile. And the pile next to that pile is the 2nd from the next TBR pile. Hmm, I’ve forgotten where the TBR pile is, and until I find it, I can’t in good conscience start on the second or third TBR, my system will be out of whack and think what I might miss! The books on the retro yellow kitchen step stool? Those were recently read, they’ll be kept only if I love them, which, out of the 8, 7 are too good to let go, and since only one was so so, I’m not making a trip to donate  just a single book.

The armoire is jammed with inscribed brand new books, circa new if  new were 1994 to 2003. I’ve already sacrificed enough from it and the cupboard. There’s not a Parker, Dexter, or Francis can be spared. Naturally the two lengthy shelves above and along the living room wall built just for books should be fertile ground for discards. Over there-How-To books. Whoa, wait a sec, I need those, I don’t know how to do a thing; center shelf–already read 30s mysteries, must keeps for the awesome spines; right, special editions of the classics with superb Rockwell Kent illustrations, who would give those away? Well, OK, so didn’t garner many from here.

The benches full of Alice in Wonderland may be thought by some as the perfect things to move on out–I mean, why do you need 30 books of the same story? Duh! Thirty different artists!

So, I’m down to the real bookshelves, and they can’t be touched, my almost complete set of Judy Bolton juvenile mysteries reside on the next to bottom shelf, the bottom has our weird roadtrip guides–I mean, how would we know about that house made entirely of Union soldier tombstones without them?

In the end, the curling, warped paperbacks, the ones that were supposed to go, can’t now, no self respecting book lover donates less than gently used books, for heaven’s sake.

So, where was I? Back to the question.

Can somebody have too many books? Yes. Yes. And yes.

I just don’t happen to be that somebody.

1 thought on “Can a Person Have Too Many Books?”

  1. This made me smile from ear to ear. I completely ‘get’ this. I don’t have as many books now, as I did the clean out 2 years ago. Of course they are still in my garage. I need a forklift to get them moved. I started on the free e-books and am ashamed to say I have more than I will ever read. I had multiple copies of Winnie the Pooh, of course for the illustrations but kept the best one as my forever book. So what makes us crave the comfort of books? I personally think it’s the places we can go. When life is tough, and it usually is… I can go to Wonderland, The Hundred Acre Wood, a battlefield in France or visit the Holy Land. I can laugh at the antics of a naughty dog, snicker at Twain’s observations and Thurber’s drawings or cry along with those who lose loved ones to illness, injury or war. I live…vicariously through the stories of others. I don’t understand the people who don’t have books. I think there is something sad and a little ” wrong” with them. But I can always donate a book or two to them for decorative purposes. Maybe, just maybe they will actually read it…if they get the flu. You have to start somewhere.

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