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Getting Rid of Books, Making Space for Life

Brenna Clarke Gray

Staff Writer

Part muppet and part college faculty member, Brenna Clarke Gray holds a PhD in Canadian Literature while simultaneously holding two cats named Chaucer and Swift. It's a juggling act. Raised in small-town Ontario, Brenna has since been transported by school to the Atlantic provinces and by work to the Vancouver area, where she now lives with her stylish cyclist/webgeek husband and the aforementioned cats. When not posing by day as a forserious academic, she can be found painting her nails and watching Degrassi (through the critical lens of awesomeness). She posts about graphic narratives at Graphixia, and occasionally she remembers to update her own blog, Not That Kind of Doctor. Blog: Not That Kind of Doctor Twitter: @brennacgray

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little too beholden to my stuff. Mostly this is because we’re thinking about moving to a trendier area of Vancouver from our spacious suburban apartment, which of course means a smaller square footage. But it’s also because I looked around our apartment and realized how much of our space is taken up storing books that could be used for any number of other things. Living, for example.

This used to just be for books. Now it's for books, and records, the guest book from our wedding, and gifts we treasure from people we love. Now it's for our whole lives.

This used to just be for books. Now it’s for books, and records, the guest book from our wedding, and gifts we treasure from people we love. Now it’s for our whole lives.

This weekend, we combed through our bookshelves for books to get rid of and came up with, well, tons of them. Three boxes full of them, easily. (It’s good timing, as we are donating them to Event Magazine‘s annual book sale fundraiser — support your local literary magazine!) And rather than feeling like I had lost old friends, I looked around our apartment at the bookshelf we could now donate to the SPCA charity shop and the space we were regaining and felt lighter. Happier. We had cleared enough space by shedding books to build a little reading nook in our living room, to hang art that had been waiting for a wall for ages, to shelve all our vinyl in alphabetical order, to install inserts into our Ikea Expedit that let us display some of the precious things that have been tucked away for far too long, and even leave an empty shelf for room to grow — maybe to add books, but maybe to buy more records or maybe to display something else entirely.

If you get rid of books, you'll have more room for cats.

If you get rid of books, you’ll have more room for cats.

For too much of my life I have bought into the notion that my books are who I am. Indeed, as an English prof and book blogger married to the son of an antiquarian bookseller, it can sometimes feel like books are all I am. I used to wait for people to look through my book collection when they visited, pleased when the range and depth surprised them and silently judgemental when they didn’t look at all. It’s embarrassing to me now to think I ever determined whether or not people were worthwhile by how much interest they took in my bookshelves.

We privilege books in a way we don’t privilege other objects. If this was a post about me getting rid of Precious Moments figurines, even if I really loved Precious Moments figurines, the response would be laudatory. “Good for you,” you might say, “for simplifying your life and not putting so much stock in stuff.” But when it’s books that are the objects in questions, we’re not hoarders: we’re book lovers. Not only are we book lovers, but we’re people walking around with a smug sense of superiority over those who we deem not book lovers. It’s not the most flattering light to be viewed in, honestly. And the response to this post on Facebook won’t be laudatory, I am certain.

Books, after all, are just the object that holds the story. Surely it’s the story, the words, the experience of reading that matters most. And now, because I divested myself of some of those physical objects, I have a cozy new space to do that experiencing.


Reading nook. Now with extra-cozy instagram filter.


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