I've recently had various friends, colleagues, and acquaintances make comments about how I should get an e-reader, or sell my books, or that I have too many bookshelves and shouldn't need more, or that bookshelves are great for displaying knick-knacks but not much else.
I've been collecting books for a long time - pretty much since I got my first job. I have several books I bought as a teen, but my collection really took off once I stopped flatting and had a whole house to expand into, rather than just a bedroom. We currently have two large bookshelves and two medium bookshelves that house our burgeoning collection, plus two small bookshelves for recipe books and university books. But our bookshelves are overflowing: I want to buy two more large bookshelves at least, and probably a long, low bookshelf to go under the window in our study, although we're still finalising logistics. And this may still not be enough, because most of our bookshelves are stacked two books deep, with more stacks of books on our bedroom floor or various other strategic spots about the house.
I also can't bear to part with books. I don't even sell my university textbooks, as a rule. The only time I will part with a book is if I accidentally buy two, which happens on occasion: browsing a second-hand store, I spot a bargain, can't recall if I have that particular book, and buy it, only to find its twin on the shelf at home. I have a few books of this type that I'm not sure what I'm going to do with yet - donate them? sell them? trade them? - and so they sit in a pile by the door, because I can't bring myself to get rid of them.
I recently bought a Penguin Classics edition of The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Surprisingly, I've never read this book, and I wanted to remedy that. The edition I bought is a hardcover with a slipcover. It's absolutely gorgeous:
The back inside flap of the slipcover included a detachable bookmark with a quote from the book, which you can see peeking out the top in the above picture. I detached it quickly, before I could convince myself that the book would be worth more if I didn't - because that's not why I buy books. I didn't buy this book to sit on a shelf looking beautiful - I bought it to read and love and read again, and damage will be done.
When I carefully removed the slipcover to start reading, I was thrilled - the actual hardcover of the book is a beautiful creamy white. The pages are smooth and heavy and the book smells lovely - the "new parchment" smell that Hermione smells in the Felix Felicis potion. The book was so beautifully presented I could barely bring myself to handle it - but I soon found myself lost in the world of the book.
I don't recall the last time I was so drawn in by the sensual experience of reading, but it reminded me why I love my books so much. A book is so much more than ink and paper - it is a whole world, brimming with possibilities. It is the simple pleasure of curling up in bed with rain beating on your window and a book in your hands. It is the feel of the paper under your fingertips, the pleasure of turning each page and seeing your progress through the book. It is an escape, or knowledge, or a new friend. It is the shared experience, the collaboration between writer and reader and other readers and critics.
Above all, it is a love that only others who share my love of books can truly understand.