My Personal Library is an Extension of Myself

I just read an article by Tara Cheesman at Book Riot: SERIOUSLY, LEAVE ME & MY #$%@ BOOKS ALONE. While no one has ever told me to divest myself of books, Ms. Cheesman’s work had me nodding my head in recognition, both in our shared desire to minimize possessions as well as a build a personal library at the same time.

I’m a little different. I’m emotionally attached to my books, enough so that I refer to myself as a crazy book lady.

Giving me a book is like giving Dobby a sock. To me, books represent freedom on many levels. Not only the freedom of imagination, but also the freedom of time (to read) and space (for more books) and gravity (important works that shape our world). While I want to get rid of a lot of the useless crap crammed into this house, I’m minimizing stuff so I can have more space for bookshelves.

At the beginning of this year, I pledged to buy nothing new for at least 6 months but exempted books because they are as important to me as air and water. I have two friends whose library-fu is greater than mine and I envy them. It isn’t that they have more books than I do, it’s that they have the space for a dedicated library in their home. Someday, I’ll have that as well.

Throughout my life, books were the one thing I could always count on, and a good library was holier than any church. They were always there for me. Libraries were my second home and librarians my surrogate parents. This is not hyperbole. I was raised by a single mom who was trying to finish her Master’s degree. We spent a lot of weekday evenings at the university library. She’d drop me off in the children’s section and vanish into the stacks for hours. I was under strict orders to stay there, stay quiet, and leave her alone. I read everything I could reach on the shelves, often falling asleep while sprawled on the floor with a book in my hands. In the 1970’s, feral elementary-school-aged children were tolerated and this was no big deal. These days, she’d probably be arrested for child abuse.

We lived in an old barracks on the former Stead Air Force Base, where my mother also served in the National Guard, on top of her full-time job and graduate school. There was a small public library within easy walking distance, and that’s where I spent most of my weekends when we weren’t at the Reno Public Library downtown. One day I grabbed a new book off the display, entranced by the image of a girl with little dragons flying around her. It was, of course, Dragon Song by Anne McCaffrey. It was the first chapter book I ever read and sparked my lifelong love of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

I started building my personal library in my childhood. My relatives bought books for me for nearly every gifting opportunity. In middle school, two of my school buddies and I joined the Science Fiction book club and passed the books around between us. Summers with my grandfather always included a trip to the Half Price Books mothership in Dallas, where I filled my arms with new friends to take home with me. These books kept me company, comforted me and reassured me that there was a world beyond the poverty and desperation that was my childhood.

The majority of my books are fantasy and horror with sci-fi thrown into the mix. Most are paperbacks, most are well-worn, creased, and yellowed with age. These books have been read and re-read and notated and loved. I also have nonfiction collections: secret societies, history, fine art and artist’s biographies, magic and the supernatural, cultural and anthropological studies, crafting/DIY/maker books, mythology, and folklore. I also have a collection of children’s illustrated storybooks and a couple of shelves of comics and graphic novels.

Personal libraries are personal. My library is an extension of my intelligence and sense of wonder. My library is the story of my life. It doesn’t just reflect my tastes in literature, it marks the milestones of my past and reinforces the life I want to live in the future. Dismantling my library would be akin to erasing my life.

Yes, I’m keeping my books.

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