Have you noticed how you find something different to think about each time you re-read a book? You think that you know the plot well enough but suddenly, out of the blue, something else will strike you, depending on what is happening in your own life at the time.
Keeping this in mind, it has become a difficult task to divest our home of the books we have collected over the decades.
Now libraries, book clubs and everywhere we could go for our “reading fix” are shut to us and we are actually re-reading our books
Most of them have found their way onto our shelves from pavement sellers and friends, or friends of friends who sought to streamline their possessions while we could not resist their offers despite having read most of their books already.
We assured ourselves — and them — that we would follow a “Pass-it-on” policy to spread the joy of books once we had re-read them but we did not get down to that because fortunately for us and unfortunately for our good intentions, we are members of a well-stocked and frequently updated library from which we can bring home eight books at a time.
Our cup runs over — and so do our book cupboards — and we sigh helplessly as we push at the doors of those cupboards and fix locks to prevent the contents from spilling out.
“Will we ever re-read these books?” we ask ourselves. “Or are we just being greedy/acquisitive/clingy?”
We know at the back of our minds that there is a solution for us. All we have to do is empty our bookshelves in one shot, donate everything to a nearby library — and then draw on it when we feel we must go over The Collected Works of Somerset Maugham or Oscar Wilde or Jane Austen at sometime in the future.
Or we could go about reducing the clutter in our home book by book, visiting book clubs and reading centres where we can walk in with a book that has been read and enjoyed by us and walk out with a completely different book, read and enjoyed by someone else!
Picking and choosing books
These book exchange centres have sprung up in various cities, including ours, and we note down numbers and addresses and timings but although we make several false starts, picking and choosing books that we don’t mind not seeing or reading again, we do not take that final step and actually go to those centres to take our chances.
We make excuses to ourselves: “We would like our grandchildren to one day have the wealth of choice that we never did when we were young.”
“Imagine being able to open these cupboards and help themselves — we didn’t have that option when we were youngsters, did we? We had to steal into Dad’s library and pilfer books and hope he didn’t notice, or read them under his table or behind the curtain!”
But those grandchildren we are saving our books for are nonexistent at present, so why do we continue to guard those bookshelves in anticipation of their imagined interest?
Call it greed or avarice, call it foolishness or inertia, call it sheer selfishness and an inability to let go — and you will be right with every one of those descriptions.
Because we are still here with our overflowing bookshelves, still debating with ourselves, still reluctant to part with our books.
Then, while we delayed in the hope (or was it dread?) that someone else would heartlessly sweep everything away while we are asleep because we could not get ourselves to do it, the lockdown happened.
Now libraries, book clubs and everywhere we could go for our “reading fix” are shut to us and we are actually re-reading our books, lingering over them, appreciating once again why we liked them in the first place, discovering new facets to delight in, enjoying them anew.
—Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India