I have vivid memories of myself as a toddler sitting on the warm brown leather couch in my parents’ living room going over Hooked On Phonics flashcards with my mother. In those moments, I loathed the time I spent sitting there, minute after tedious minute, going over pronunciations and spellings of words in their most rudimentary forms. Now – however – I am thankful for my mom always pushing me to be the best version of myself that I could possibly be (even as a toddler). I was taught that with a bit of effort, I could become a more intelligent and successful at what I wanted to put that effort toward.
Twenty years later, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English. All those hours of Hooked On Phonics both made a lasting impression on me and also paid off in the longrun. I couldn’t be more thankful for the education I have been granted, the experiences I now have under my belt, and the support I have always had in my corner.
Now that I have been out of college for a year, and am working my way toward graduate school in a different field that I am passionate about, how does all that reading over so many years pan out? English is my passion; it is a joy to write and I love to read. As a woman now in my mid-twenties, I have collected many books; picture books such as Corduroy from my childhood, books from adolescence that include Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, novels from authors ranging from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zora Neale Hurston for assigned reading in high school, text books from college I have hung onto just in case I might need to reference something in my adult life, and – of course – heaps of novels for pleasure-reading. However, as I continue to work toward a simple and more purposeful life, having all of these books that I no longer read and will not read again was incredibly impractical and taking up much of the minimal space in Sunrise Spot.
With two bookshelves in the apartment, a bookshelf still at my parents’ house two towns over, and boxes upon boxes of books in storage in their shed, I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of going through everything in order to decide which books I could live through parting with. As I will be moving 390 miles southwest to Philadelphia in August, I felt that it was definitely time to rid my parents of my remaining unnecessary clutter. Thus, out of goodwill and necessity, I began a difficult journey sorting through my life’s journey as paved by books.
For any bibliophile – not only someone who has an English degree – it is difficult to part with cherished stories, even ones from childhood (I couldn’t force myself to leave my copy of The Velveteen Rabbit behind, even now). I suggest starting out in small doses. Tell yourself you’re only going to look at one shelf per day – this way you can pace yourself through the emotions of getting rid of possessions that feel more like friends than belongings. With many of my books, Sawyer was subjected to my expounding upon the book’s greatest moments, why it meant so much to me, and how lovely its old musty book smell is before finally tossing it into a bin to be donated to the library (bless his heart, he puts up with a lot, doesn’t he?).
I also recommend singling out each book on its own rather than attempting to tackle an armful. When you’re dealing with just one book, it’s easier to sort through the associated memories with said book rather than with a shelfful. A bookshelf can become an unconquerable entity if looked at as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. I had luck the most luck by taking all the books from one shelf away from the shelf and sorting through them on a new surface, like a table or the floor. By taking the pieces away from their repository, it was easier to become less indoctrinated to the belief that the shelf had to be stuffed full in order to be designated a bookshelf.
Like any true book-lover, I had books on my shelf that I hadn’t yet gotten around to reading. I had brought them home from the bookshop with a hopeful heart, dreaming of a spare hour here and there to crack open that book and read a couple of chapters. Many of those books I still haven’t gotten to, despite my enthusiasm upon first purchasing them. In spite of my best efforts, sometimes I just don’t have the time. I developed a filter for how to divide my “yet to read” pile into “keep” and “donate”; if I haven’t begun reading a book within six months of buying it, I don’t need it taking up valuable space on my shelves.
In order to part with books both read and unread with a less guilty conscience, I set a couple of mine aside for friends and family members that I thought might like receiving them as gifts. Once I was able to weed out the books that my friends couldn’t live without, I chose to donate them to my local library. Libraries are generally picky about what types of books they will take as donations, so any unwanted leftover publications went to local resale stores such as Goodwill.
As an avid reader, I have that handful of books that I will never, ever get rid of. I have dedicated one shelf to my Robinson Crusoe-esque marooning on a desert island. My “Crusoe shelf” – as I have dubbed it – can never be more than one shelf in size, which forces me to continually think about which novels are the most important to me (which novels I’d absolutely die to have should I become stranded). Having space restrictions such as the ones I have in Sunrise Spot forces one to think about the importance of their objects, so I know for certain that the books on my Crusoe shelf are the ones I will keep all my life long.
When Sawyer and I decided to move in together – we had to be careful about which books we brought into our apartment and which ones we were better off parting ways with. Many of our numerous books were ones that we had given each other as gifts – because they were copies of our own favorites that we wanted the other to read. But once we moved in together, we then had duplicates. There was clearly no need to keep different publications of the same stories, so Sawyer and I determined that the person who suggested the read to the other would be the one to keep their copy of any corresponding novel. Thus far, its worked out well. In fact, we’re both more apt to read a well-loved book with a broken-in binding and yellowed pages than we are to read a freshly printed one. There is something nostalgic about the act of reading that really touches us deeply.
After many weeks of emotional sorting, I am now the proud owner of 26 books spanning almost as many genres. As someone who – at one time – owned what might have been 260 books, I couldn’t be more pleased by the transformation I have made. By choosing to simplify my life into a more thoughtful and purposeful routine, I was able to whittle down the overwhelming sensation that I needed the unread and unloved books on my bookshelves into scarcely two armfuls of books that I could take with me just about anywhere in a wooden milk crate. These books are the ones I absolutely love. They are the stories I come back to time and time again, always with fresh eyes and invested interest, and continue to show me things every read-through.
I am no longer swimming in, climbing over, or maneuvering around heaps of books, but I haven’t forsaken all of those hours I spent with my mom on the couch going over the Hooked on Phonics flashcards either. I have discovered a perfect balance between having too much or too little when it comes to my bookshelves. Now I am happy with that inerrant just right of curling up under our creamy cotton blanket with a well-loved copy in the old leather armchair next to our east-facing window. There is nothing flawed in great love for an object, in fact – I have found – the those objects that I love most are the ones I desire to surround myself with; all other things are trifles. My journey toward simple and purposeful living can be defined as a boiling down of all the stuff that I’ve surrounded myself with into either what I love or what is existing in my space. Now I am surrounded by the books that I wholeheartedly love, and for a bibliophile, there is no greater perception of luxury. At heart, I’m still (and always will be) that little girl who’s happy to read The Rough-Faced Girl under her covers by flashlight.