Why is it so hard to let go of books?

I know my relationship with books isn’t entirely rational. If it was I wouldn’t buy more books when I own so many I haven’t yet read and I wouldn’t hold on to books where the print is too small for me to read or where my memory of the book is so faint it’s like a scent that I can barely detect, a mis-firing trigger to a memory that I can’t quite summon.

I’ve come to understand that my relationship with books, particularly the ones I’ve already read, is fundamentally emotional. Some of them are part of my identity: who I think I am or who i used to be or who I’d like to be if only I was slightly better at being me. Many of them link me to a time and a place. Some of them are just the ghosts of a smile or a hope. Some make me shake my head and go, ‘I really was young enough to enjoy this forty years ago.’

When I returned to the UK, after years away, I was confronted with box after box of books that had been in storage. I found a note I written more than a decade before that described one set of boxes as ‘150 absolutely essential Science Fiction books.’ Over the past three years, I’ve been slowly culling what I now see as my Smaug’s Hoard of books. It should have been easy. It wasn’t.

Today, I’m down to my last box of Science Fiction books. The rational part of me knows that they should all go. I have a decades worth of unread books. Why should I keep these? The rational part of me is not my favourite part but he’s sometimes right (and always irrationally smug about it). Even so, I’ve held out on him, refusing to let them all go but agreeing to take twenty books to Book Barn International to be released into the wild.

Even then, I can’t just let them go.

I’ve loaded them all on to LibraryThing, taking care to get the right cover for each book and, of course, I’ve replaced some of them with digital copies and I’ve checked that I could replace all of them that way.

I already had digital versions of ‘Hyperion’, ‘Dune’, and ‘Beggars In Spain’ because I kept telling myself that I was going to re-read them some day soon and I knew that the print on my copies was too small for me to read.

So I can feel virtuous that I’ve only added one ebook to my virtual shelf from the twenty that I’m letting go. It was one I’d almost forgotten about but which made me smile as soon as I picked it up.

The cover of my original copy is the one on the left. That was enough to get me to buy the book at the time. The one on the the right is from the ebook that the guys at Gateway put together.

Here’s the publisher’s summary:

‘The usual last battle of Good against Evil is about to begin, and Orc Captain Ashnak and his war-band know exactly what to expect. The forces of Light are outnumbered, full of headstrong heroes devoid of tactics, but the Light’s still going to win. Orcs will die by the thousands, and no one cares. No even the Nameless Necromancer who hired them.’

If that doesn’t sell it to you, then try an excerpt from Mary Gentle’s introduction entitled, ‘Smarter Than Root Vegetables’:

See what I mean about it being hard to let books go?

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