An Aesthetics of Books: Why Getting Rid of Books Is Difficult

Getting rid of books

Getting rid of the books on this bookcase, but first I had to haul them out of storage in the boxes above.

“I only buy new books so that I can make sure they don’t have any highlighting or notes in them. If I died, I wouldn’t want anyone to find my books and think other people’s notes were mine.”

When one of my teachers in graduate school said this, I at first took it as a very eccentric statement, possibly even bordering on vanity; however, I believe that I can relate to it a lot more now than I could at the time. The relationship that we have with books is an intimate one. In discussing aesthetics, one of the things that sets reading off from other media is precisely that physical relationship we have with books, and if we are highlighting, underlining, or writing them, this only makes the intimacy all the stronger.

Recently I have been focused on simplifying my life in as many ways as possible. This ranges from paying off debts to downsizing my living arrangements to getting rid of a large number of books. Although this is perhaps a topic for an entirely different post, the reason I’m simplifying is to try to improve the quality of my life. I firmly believe that my American lifestyle has become overly complicated and the amount of stuff I have accumulated reached the point of being overwhelming. Overall, the process has actually been much smoother than I thought it would be. With the help of some close friends and family I’ve gotten rid of things by selling them online, giving them away, and even having a garage sale! Almost everything I’ve gotten rid of has been forgotten almost as soon as it’s left the door.

And yet, I’m struggling emotionally with getting rid of just a portion of the books that I own. Although it has been tempting to just allow books to be the one thing I don’t simplify, it quickly became apparent that this would not work, as I have more books than anything else I own!


Aesthetics of Books


Although I’ve always enjoyed books, I think my love affair first began when I discovered a copy of the book “Philosophies Men Live By” in the Mississippi State University library. I had just started my freshman year, and was taking Introduction to Philosophy but still yearning to learn as much as I possibly could. I flew through the book and was amazed at all the different ways there were of looking at life. I purchased a used copy on Amazon and when it arrived, I fell in love with the book all over again. It was battered and worn and yellowed with age. I saw it as a book that had been places – had truly existed and lived through its own adventures.

In addition to the intimate nature of holding an actual physical book, I also see books as a representation of the wisdom that is part of my life. Seeing the book on the shelf – or more accurately, the books on the shelves – is a constant reminder of what I’ve read and learned, and I love nothing more than running back to a book and referencing something in it a later time.

As you may have guessed, I have also struggled in moving over to the e-reader world. I finally got one for myself at the beginning of this year, using rewards I had racked up through Office Depot for work. I’ve bought a few books here and there, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to purchase e-books exclusively, much less regularly. I feel like I miss out on so much that way!

All of these things might just be fun quirks if they didn’t lead to the very real issue of the amount of space my books take up in my home.

Slowly but surely, I’ve been working at overcoming this powerful aesthetic attachment to the book, and have been getting rid of as many as I dare. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way for getting rid of books:

  1. Sell them on Amazon – this is always my first stop, especially for textbooks that aren’t out-dated. Some books actually offer a decent return by selling them used through Amazon.
  2. Donate them: I use this strategy for the books that I really don’t have much attachment to. Often this ends up being things like cook books that just never got much use.
  3. – With this one, you’re actually losing money out of the gate, because you have to pay to ship the books to other people. However, that gives you one credit that is worth any book of your choosing that’s available on the site. There are often long waiting lists, but whenever there’s a book I want, I just add it to my list. I’ve gotten several dozen books from this site over the years, and it’s much cheaper than buying new!

And with every book that I see on it’s way out, I feel a tinge of sadness – remembering the things I’ve learned or the adventures that I’ve been on with each of them. In the end, though, I must focus on the hope that the increased space and decreased clutter will make me happiest.

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