Every few months we enjoy a day out to Barter Books in Alnwick; a beautiful market town on the North East coast with amazing gardens, castle and one of the best second hand bookshops -ever. It’s a family favourite: husband sees books leaving the house ( they run a barter system), children watch trains running above the bookshelves (it’s in the old railway station), they ‘drive’ the book bus while browsing for their own books, we get to rummage through shelves and shelves of books of all descriptions; to top it all off, we can warm ourselves by the fire and rejuvenate in the restored cafe.
As I handed over my bag a few weeks’ ago, bulging with about 30 books to offer for barter, I found myself wondering (again) why I find it so hard to give books away. Why am I so attached to them? Why do I always hesitate before handing them over?
I don’t see myself as a particularly materialistic person. But I find it difficult to resist buying another book to add to my ‘must read’ shelves. Books represent an indulgence; I don’t buy lots of shoes, jewellery, clothes, go on expensive holidays, etc. so buying a book, whether from a charity shop, at a reduced price, or throwing the latest bestseller into the basket with the shopping, is only a minor, insignificant indulgence. Isn’t it?
Buying a book represents so much. Having a book indicates the intention to read it. I have promised myself the time to enjoy reading this book; it represents ‘me time’; a moment to be selfish, to sit down, enjoy an escape from daily demands and responsibilities, to listen to and experience another person’s stories, experiences or knowledge.
I know I can achieve all this by borrowing from my local library (which I do, very regularly), but owning my own copy makes the contents more personal. I can read it in my own time, without a renewal deadline. I can lend it, enjoy receiving it back, chat about it, return it to my shelves. I also become attached to certain editions, remembering where I was when I read it, occasionally leaving a memento of a particular time in the books’ leaves.
So often though, a book on my shelves represents a desire to read it. I often fill my shelves with books I either want to read or feel I should read. My bookcases are aspirational!
But, of course, there comes a moment when I realise I can pass on a book.
I can give it a new life, save it from languishing, un read on our shelves. I might have read it before but not fallen so in love with it that I cannot see it go; in fact, I might not have read it at all (yet). It is my responsibility as a bibliophile to pass books on, to share their physicality and their contents.
And so, farewell (some) beloved books. Live again…