Consider This Permission to Keep All Your Books

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Ashley Bowen

Staff Writer

Ashley Bowen earned a PhD in American Studies and Public Humanities in December 2016. Her research focuses on the history of health, medicine, and social services in the period from the American Civil War to World War I. When she isn't feeling existential angst about finishing her dissertation, she works as a part-time bookseller and plans adventures as a field agent for Atlas Obscura. A Texas native now living in Washington, DC, she has been known to travel long distances for a proper breakfast taco and Dr. Pepper. Her writing appears on Book Riot, Atlas Obscura, museum blogs, and in various "serious" academic journals. Twitter: @aebowenPhD

It’s okay to keep books, even ones you don’t like much and even ones you DNF’d. I know this is blasphemous in a post-Marie Kondo world. Even here on Book Riot, a website dedicated to all things bookish, we have far more articles on the need to purge our books and the difficulties inherent to moving with loads of books than we do on why it’s okay to keep books if you like them.

Now, I’m not advocating that we bookworms allow our homes to become fire hazards or that we keep books that cause us distress or bring up painful memories (100% get rid of that book your awful ex gave you. Set that sh*t on fire). I want to make the case for keeping our books without guilt. Without feeling like we need to apologize to roommates, lovers, or movers.

For a long time I felt like I had to apologize for my books. They are heavy and take up a lot of space in apartments that are never very large. My books have been shipped via Media Mail across the United States more than once. What a frivolous waste of money! What a display of privilege to even have so many books, let alone fret about the ethical nuances of keeping/moving/storing them all! But you know what? My books made me who I am, so I’m going to keep them. Imagine a shruggie emoji here.

My books make visible various stages in my emotional, intellectual, and personal development. It’s gotten to a point where I can kind of mark periods in my life based on the books on my shelves. Lots of Greek mythology and art? College. Pretentious white guy lit fic? Ugh, early 20s when I tried way too hard. That kind of mediocre novel I read for a book club? reminds me of all the women in my life who taught me to love books, to love talking about books, and also who taught me to love wine. When I see my books on the shelf, I get quick reminders of both the person I’ve been and am becoming, almost like a visible journal.

Having a large library at home also means I can be generous with loaning books out. While there are a handful of books I’d be heartbroken not to get back, on the whole, I enjoy being able to say “oh you’ll love this! Here, borrow my copy.” It’s one of the ways I show my love for people (note: I realize that this is possibly an annoying trait that people in my life have been too kind to complain about).

For the record, I don’t keep every book I buy and I don’t buy every book I read. I am not a pack rat, I swear! A good number of my books get sold on Amazon or to a secondhand bookstore because I need the money to… buy more books. But I keep more than I sell, especially if its a book that I liked or that played an important role in my life. Recently, I’ve developed the habit of getting books from the library and then, if I like them, buying them to keep on my shelf (I did that with both Tiny Beautiful Things and Imagine Wanting Only This).

So what I’m saying, fellow book lovers, let’s stop apologizing for our books. Lets admit that we keep loads of books because they “spark joy” and because they are important. It’s okay.