Goodbye, Old Friends: The Struggle of Letting Go of Your Book Collection


Goodbye, Old Friends: The Struggle of Letting Go of Your Book Collection

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

My collection of books is my pride and joy. Every time I’d walk into my bedroom, where the book-case stood in a sun-lit corner, I would look at that beautifully bound Wordsworth, my snow-white copy of Dickens’ Christmas Stories, my Austen collection, or any of the other books that I have read and reread over the years and experience a jolt of joy. Opening the trunks that hold moth-eaten Famous Fives, St Clare’s, and Hardy Boys – the books of my childhood – takes me back to my summer holidays, snug in a hammock, reading my heart out. It was only when we were moving houses that I really saw the number of books I have accumulated over the years.

That’s when I came face-to-face with every bibliophile’s worst nightmare: Reducing the size of my book collection.

For those of us living in Mumbai, where a square inch of space is dearer than uranium, books – especially those that we do not plan to read in the near future – have become something of a white elephant. Unfortunately for me, our new house has no space for my extensive collection of books. So the husband took it upon himself to Marie Kondo his way through my books.

“When did you last read a real book?” he asked.

And I had to admit if you leave out Peppa Pig and other choice reading material for my kid, I haven’t gotten my hands on a single hardcopy book in the last few years.

“But that doesn’t mean I’ll never read them again,” I pointed out.

It made me ponder: Does it make sense to hoard so many books, some out of sentimental value, some because they have been gifted by loved ones, and others because people call them classics? After all, when I get the urge to read Pride and Prejudice, I hardly ever read the leather-bound edition I own. Instead, I read the free Amazon Classics version on my Kindle. I know I have gone over to the dark side. I am a Kindle Girl through and through.

If the purpose of the books is just to look pretty on the shelf, why not just get a painting?

Though my book collection survived the move, finding refuge at the bottom of the wardrobe and sundry other places I could spare, thinning the herd has become a pressing need. Not only do you have to contrive to find space for a bookshelf, you also have to dust the books often enough to keep up with the dust generator that is urban Mumbai. And if the purpose of the books is just to look pretty on the shelf, why not just get a painting?

Most of my “mom friends” have moved on to the Kindle camp. Unsurprisingly, there’s something about toddlers that makes it difficult to read and lug around a big hardbound book! The Kindle-campers amongst my friends have either managed to de-stash their books or are vaguely thinking of doing it. After all 2020 has been, among others, the year of decluttering. What can be better than donating your precious books to a lending library, orphanage, or senior citizen? A friend’s mum, who would never lend out her books, broke that habit to share her favourites with a neighbour who was quarantined at home and bored witless.

After all, if 2020 has taught us anything, it is how to accept change. Maybe the next time Beauty and the Beast is remade, it’ll feature Belle with a “dreamy far-off look, and a nose stuck in her Kindle book”! So I’m going to stock my one shelf with my toddler’s Julia Donaldson collection, give away James Joyce’s Ulysses (and the hope of ever reading it), and still call myself a book lover. Just as a book is not judged by its cover, why judge a book lover based on the size of their bookshelf?