Whose bookshelf is it, anyway?

When I moved in with my husband in March, all of my stuff came with me – clothes, furniture, pictures, and (of course) my books.

It wasn’t until I moved everything out of my DC apartment and into my new, New Jersey home that I realized how many of them I’d accumulated over the years: paperbacks and hardcovers I’d loved as a teenager and couldn’t bear to part with; English textbooks I “swore I’d need again one day”; anthologies I promised myself I’d read, but never quite got around to.

It was a long process trying to find a place for everything – after all, Pat had lived at the house solo for almost a year before I joined him. He’d already had his stuff pretty well sorted out; now, I had to make my life fit into his. While – of course – clothes were the first thing that demanded a place in the new home, my books were a close second.

Thankfully, we’d gotten a bookshelf from a neighbor the previous year. Pat had started to fill it with members of his own collection – a really interesting mix of classics and comics – but there was definitely room for me. Was being the key word: I soon realized there wouldn’t be enough room for all of my “beloved” literature, and I’d need to be particular about which items I’d keep, and which I’d donate. I also realized that I’d probably have to put a moratorium on buying books, at least until we could figure the space situation out.

But then I remembered something: my Kindle! I’d bought the reading device a couple years ago, but could never really get into it. I loved the feel of a book in my hands, and the commitment that came with physically carrying a novel with me. If I was going to lug a huge book with me to and from work, I reasoned, I probably was going to read it. If I throw a Kindle in my bag, though, I’m as likely to pick it up as a game of Candy Crush on my cell phone. There was about the presence of a book that commanded attention – a presence that the Kindle just didn’t have.

But, as I was shelving Gone Girl and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I knew: I needed my Kindle. I wasn’t going to have enough room for all that I’d read – and still wanted to read – otherwise. So, I dug it out from where I knew it was hiding – underneath the passenger’s seat of my car – and charged it up, readying myself for my next book.

It was hard, at first. I opened my download, The Book Thief, and found myself constantly adjusting the font size, distracted by the features of the reading device. I also glanced, every few clicks of the page, at the “progress bar” — knowing exactly how long I had with a book before it ended. I was distracted. With paperback books, I felt a personal connection, a solidarity that I couldn’t replicate with the Kindle. The words on the screen felt counterfeit, almost as though they were “lesser” than those printed on physical paper.

But gradually, I got used to it. I committed to reading on the Kindle, and began to recognize the utility of it: a device that allows you to read thousands of books, without taking up thousands of books’ worth of room in your home.

A year later, I still love to read – I’m a proud library card holder, so that I can add books to my collection temporarily, without committing to finding them a permanent spot on our space-limited bookshelf.

But something else changed: I’m also the owner of a brand-new Nook, too. I read through the flaws I’d originally seen as “unforgivable” on the reading device. I found the right font size: one that didn’t make me squint, but didn’t require me to e-turn the page every four seconds. I noticed the progress bar less and less.

Right now, I think there’s a place for both a reading device and an overcrowded bookshelf in our home. But ask me in a year — my answer might be different.




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