I like to keep expectations low. That way, everyone is pleasantly surprised when things go well, and no one is disappointed when they don't. As a result, I don't usually make New Year's resolutions; I never have much confidence in my ability to stick to them once the novelty of making them wears off, and it's unnecessary to add additional disappointment to a Michigan February, which is quite grim enough on its own.
Somehow, though, this year I feel the draw of starting afresh and making changes. I've decided to seen if I can refrain from buying any books, new or used, for three months. One motivation for the decision is safety: my bedside table is stacked so high with books that Joe isn't allowed in the bedroom because I'm afraid of loud noises triggering an avalanche and burying us alive until we suffocate under multiple copies of Anna Karenina and The Beginner's Guide to Geocaching.
There are also stacks and stacks of books piled up in front of the bookcases all over the house, all books that look really interesting or that have been recommended or that have particularly good cover design or that happen to be about whatever topic I was pursuing on the day I came across them. I haven't lost interest in these books, but they have a lot of competition for my attention, and most of them remain unread, which seems an unnatural state of existence foryou book. You could probably lock me in this house for fifty years and, with just what's on my shelves right now, I would not run out of new things to read. And between the ever-growing size of the collection and the multiple other demands on my time, what chance do I stand of getting to read half these books?
I've always loved books. When I was a kid, my dad would reward me for special chores like cleaning out the garage by taking me to the Wooden Spoon Used Book Store and letting me pick out whatever I wanted. I collected Nancy Drew mysteries; the core of my collection were old editions of the first three volumes of the series, which had belonged to my mother when she was a girl. By the time I outgrew Nancy Drew, I had collected every book in the series that had been published thus far, in at least one edition. (If you are also a Nancy Drew aficionado, you know that many of the books in the series have been revised and rewritten several times in order to keep up with modern mores; for example, the dialect-spouting "negress" of the blue 1930 edition of The Hidden Staircase is gone from the yellow 1959 edition, and the plot has been completely transformed.) I learned a lot from Nancy Drew; not just the usefulness of Morse Code and knowing how to tap dance, and interesting facts about various exotic locales, but also about the importance of chums who make you look brilliant by comparison, and the value of having a loving but absent father and a housekeeper who doesn't cramp your style, instead of an actual mother who would probably forbid you to drive your blue roadster out to the abandoned house at midnight in order to check on your hunch.
When I was in sixth grade or so, my mother volunteered our house as the collections warehouse for a charity used book sale. People would drop off bags and boxes of old books during the day, and following my after-school snack, I would disappear into the basement to loot and pillage. I was like Scrooge McDuck, swimming in his money; there were hundreds of cardboard boxes full of adventure and delight. My reading list became random and serendipitous, and I ended up reading many, many books I might never have come across otherwise, both good and bad. This earthly paradise lasted only one year, as the weight of the books caused the foundation of the house to crack, and sadly, my parents decided to let the organization find someplace else to store the books. (Now that I have experienced at first hand the trauma--both financial and emotional--of foundation replacement, I see their point.)
My library-building continued throughout my life, punctuated by upheavals such as going off to college, and then moving through three foreign countries, two U.S. states, and the District of Columbia. Living overseas kept the book population down, since English books are not always available in significant quantity. Graduate school also restricted the wholesale amassing of random books, since time is limited and academic books are expensive.
But then life took a unexpected turn; Henry and I moved here and haven't moved again in 13 years. I never expected to live anywhere this long. When we moved from Austin, we got rid of tons (literally) of stuff; but things are like sand, I learned, and come silently drifting back in, grain by grain, and suddenly one day you realize your house is once again filled to the rafters with crap you don't need. Books are the worst of this; they are so readily available (especially when you live within walking distance of half a dozen bookstores), they are small, they aren't expensive, they look so interesting. You say to yourself (again) "Why not?" and one day you realize your house is filled to the rafters with books, all of which you genuinely do want to read, but which are perpetually slipping down the agenda as new books are brought in....It's never-ending, unless you take action. And that's what I'm doing: My resolution is to refrain from buying any books until April 1. Will I succeed? I hope so. If I do, I promised myself a special reward. And it's not a book.