Here is something we talk a lot about at Book Riot: where, exactly, do all of the books go? Our writers offer beautiful ways to arrange books, practical ways to organize and store books, places to donate books, whether or not to lend books, and more. Personally, I am still a bit perplexed. I have moved five times in six years (and I know I’m not the only one!) so I am an expert in arranging and rearranging my books, I finally donated a huge stack of books on this most recent move, and I do believe in lending books, despite my original copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Then We Came to The End being forever lost to me. My organization strategy is to find every surface in my apartment that will hold books and then stack them with piles as high as they can go without looking hoarder-y (did I mention I live in a studio apartment?). These “where do the books go” decisions I have already made mean that I have sown wild books all over multiple cities. For all I know the books I have lent could be in Timbuktu by now (though more likely in Brooklyn). And still, every year, I ask myself: where do I keep all of the books?
The answer, for me, is at my parents’ house. I recognize that I am very lucky to be able to store books with these two reliable, if increasingly unwilling, guardians. In fact, from where I sit at this exact moment, I can see the shelf that houses the first books I unloaded onto my progenitors. (Did I mention I am visiting them at the moment? And by “them,” I am referring both to my parents and to my books.) Revisiting the books reminds me of the gems I had and now do not have at my immediate disposal. The Woman Warrior, The Flamethrowers, Giovanni’s Room, Appetites, and so many more, reside just out of my reach (three and a half hours out to be exact). The books I am admiring on the shelf are of the first round of books: the college books. The second, third, fourth, fifth rounds, are sitting in boxes in a basement closet. I don’t remember most of the books stored within the depths of those recycled liquor store boxes because I haven’t seen them in years. I think, technically, that means my parents common law own most of my books by now.
Why do I continue to hold on to them when someone could be enjoying them? My parents’ basement could care less about them. (It is in fact probably actively damaging them, but I haven’t had the nerve to check.) And how, every year, do I decide which books to consign to the depths of the basement and which to display proudly in my twelve square feet of homestead? I vacillate between thinking I should hold on to those most beloved and thinking I should hold on only to those I haven’t read yet. I like the idea of my shelves being representative of my taste. But I don’t like only having previously read books at my immediate disposal.
And where does the cycle end? I keep reassuring my parents that someday I will free them of all my books—the day I finally have my own library!—but do I really believe that someday I will have my own library? If traditional adulthood is an indication, sure, I will probably have more space someday. If the precedent I’ve set in making decision that lead me to less and less space every year is any indication, “someday” I will live in a human-sized hole in the wall and will have to make the ultimate decision: which single book will I keep and use as a pillow?
The question of “where do I keep my books?” has become an existential one. I own and value all of the books I have decided to keep (rather than donate) over the years. But if they are being stored, are they not fulfilling their life’s purpose? Is it enough that I value them in the abstract? If a book sits in a basement unread, does it make a weeping sound? Am I using that philosophy correctly? Marie Kondo would ask if those basement books are bringing me joy. Not at the moment, but what about the possibility of future joy? I can envision a future wherein I experience joy at rediscovering my books and proudly displaying them on my own library shelves. What is Marie Kondo’s stance on future joy? (Don’t tell me, actually.)
My book collection has become defined by my inaction towards them, rather than by their own multitudes contained within. But when there is no more space for books, what can be done? At the risk of sounding defeated, I am defeated. Where do you, dear reader, keep your books?