Our Reading Lives

I am a Unicorn Among Book Lovers: I Like Not Keeping Books

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Heather Bottoms

Staff Writer

Heather Bottoms is a used book lover, theatre geek, and compulsive volunteer. When she is not curating her Little Free Library, she is working at her local community theatre or over-preparing for book club. She hosts book swaps, leads an LGBT-themed book club, and loves to see people bonding over books. She lives with her computer nerd/musician husband and three kids in Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @HeatherBottoms.

Last week I listened in as several Rioters were chatting about their book stashing habits. How many bookshelves are in your house and in what rooms? (In ALL the rooms.) Do you arrange your books by genre? (Everyone has their own system.) Does TBR get its own section? (Mostly yes.) How many books do you actually own? (So, so many.) How often do you cull and purge? (Not often enough.)

The discussion amused me tremendously, and I loved hearing how my fellow power readers bond with and treasure their books. But I also felt a bit left out. See, I am the rare book geek who avoids keeping books. Sometimes, when my bookish friends get talking about their glorious stacks and overflowing TBR piles, I feel like a lonely unicorn among my fellow book lovers.

For the record, I do have two bookshelves for my family of five readers. We all have our own shelves, and three of them are mine. One is for theatre books and plays because I can’t ever find them at the library, and I use them for reference. The second is for books I want to keep and possibly reread, including several childhood favorites. My third shelf is my TBR, and as soon as those books get read, away they go. I put them in my Little Free Library, give them away to friends, or exchange them at the used book store for other books I want to read. That’s my whole stash.

I do love books, and of course I do buy them. I love them just as much as my friends who have entire rooms of bookcases. I just do not feel compelled to keep them after I read them. Some of that is just my personality. I don’t like having lots of piles around, and I’m not a big shopper. I generally only buy books when they are not available at the library. I will also intentionally buy books by LGBTQ authors and writers of color, because I know they are underrepresented in publishing, and I want to support marginalized voices. You can read here and here for more on that. But I digress.

Probably the biggest reason I don’t keep books is that I find so much joy in spreading them around. It makes me ridiculously happy to give books away. I literally foist books upon everyone I come into contact with: friends, family, the HVAC repair guy…

Oh, sorry. I had to interrupt writing this post to put a copy of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse in the hands of a 6-year-old that was standing in front of my Little Free Library just now. I’ve seen her in the neighborhood, and I just knew she’d love it. Oh well, you see my point.

My husband says that my reading superpower is recommending just the right books for friends, and I admit I do have an especially fantastic track record there. In fact, when I finish a book that I particularly like, my first instinct is usually to think of the right person to give it to. I love nothing more than to pass a novel on to a friend and then hear back from them a few weeks later, “You’re right. I loved it!” Not only is it a fun challenge to match a person with a great book, but I am also creating the opportunity to discuss beloved stories with friends when they’ve read it too. The more I love a book, the faster I want to send it on to enchant the next reader.

For me, reading is at once a solitary pleasure and one that is multiplied when shared with others. I get especially excited about libraries and used books, as they are a reminder that someone has taken the road ahead of me. A turned down page or a note in the margin lets me know that I am part of a shared experience of reading. So if you ever give me a book as a gift and then you don’t see it when you come over to my house, don’t get your feelings hurt. If it is gone, it is because I enjoyed it so much I couldn’t wait to pass it on. It’s just the way I am.