Our Reading Lives

5 Rules For Rebuilding My Physical Library

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When I was young(er), I had a bookshelf. Sort of. It wasn’t meant for books. The individual shelves were too tall and too deep to be conveniently used for book storage, but I used them anyway. I lined books up three rows deep just to accommodate my growing collection.

This made rereading a pain, requiring the removal of multiple books before I could reach the one I wanted. Then came college and with it the inability to cart all my favorite reads with me to my dorm room. So I got a Kindle and loaded it with books and left behind my physical bookshelf for the five years I lived elsewhere, unwilling to take on the task of transporting so many books, especially to the impermanent home of a college student.

My living situation is no more permanent than it was before, landing back in my childhood home with that awful bookshelf. But as I clear old books and make room for new ones, I have no idea where to start. I adore my Kindle and the convenience it brings, but I miss physical books and the thrill I got when I saw new titles stacked atop one another or lined up side by side. So I’ve decided to start anew.

I’m keeping my Kindle, and it’s still going to be my primary reading method, but I’m turning my attention to building up a physical library like the one I once had, mostly made up of titles I’ve already read.

But it’s definitely an undertaking and involves way more evaluating than pressing the Buy button on my Kindle. So I’m giving myself rules.

Rule #1: This book has to be excellent. No less than four stars.

I’m a picky reader, and my standards may be too high, but if I loved it so much I’ve read it again and again, it’s a natural contender for my bookshelf. To keep the spine of the book alive, I’ll probably turn to my digital copy for most rereads, but I still want that hard copy so I can hold it in my hands and feel that now rare sensation of gripping the heft of the pages and (my favorite part!) turning it over to read the back.

Oh, the back of a book is a wonderful place.

To start this new mission I bought paperback copies of Uprooted and the first book in the Throne of Glass series. Both excellent books I first read digitally and natural additions to a physical library (plus the new TOG covers are too pretty not to have on a shelf). It also made perfect sense to move them past the next checkpoint in my vetting process.

Rule #2: Must be worth payment for physical copy (see Rule #1).

Confession: I’m cheap and a snob, an inconvenient combination when it comes to book buying. After paying for a book once in its digital format, I hesitate at buying it again in a hard copy, especially since I’m too high-maintenance to go for the cheaper used copies. I’m a “New”/”Like New” girl all the way, and then the book has to be worth the extra money, hence the first stage of my process. But if it really is just too expensive, I’ll pass a book over. It’s usually at this point in the process that I’ll reconsider the results of my initial evaluation and see if there’s some reason a book falls short of the four stars necessary for me to buy a physical copy.

This step is less painful if I borrowed the book the first time around, thereby spending no money on it, but in most cases the Math of My Life proves I spent extra money to buy the same book twice. The indebted college student in me won’t stop screaming about it, but she calms down a little when she runs her hand over a particularly pretty cover. 

Rule #3: No hardcovers. (See Rule #2)

Pre-Kindle I was so excited to read a new release that I’d buy the hardcover just so I could read it. Well, my mom would buy it. Now that she’s no longer funding my reading (damn you, adulthood!), hardcovers are a flashing neon NO. As we’ve already established I’m a cheapskate so unless it’s Hamilton: The Revolution, there’s no need for it to be a bought as a hardcover.

Rule #4: Only contribute to this physical library once a month.

My shelves are pretty pathetic looking after getting rid of all the titles I’ve grown out of (it’s been real, Meg Cabot). And after holding onto a pretty book I’m fighting the urge to buy more and more and more pretty paperbacks (this is where the screaming indebted college student comes in handy). In the name of keeping this library alive and growing, I’m putting myself on a schedule. Once a month at most, I’ll pick up a new addition to my bookshelf and let it join its brethren.

Rule #5: Only contribute to this library once a month unless it’s a special occasion and/or you can convince someone else to buy your book for you. 

Special occasions include holidays, good news, or a vacation in Los Angeles and a trip to The Ripped Bodice (you can’t not buy something from The Ripped Bodice). As for the other part, well. Sometimes my mom is still struck by the maternal urge to give me book money. Thanks, Mom.