concerns about book fetishisation aside, I am actually mostly in favour of large personal book collections. I have several hundred books on my shelves and another 200-odd at my parents’ house that I could reclaim if I wanted to. the house I grew up in has a couple thousand books, probably, and that was great.
why? I like having a lot of unread books around that I don’t have to worry about getting back to the library anytime soon. I’m prone to having eyes bigger than my stomach when it comes to going to the library, and having to return a pile of unread books after accumulating heavy fines; it’s nice not to worry about that all the time while still having yet-to-be-read books around waiting for me. (at the moment my borrowing rights are suspended at all three of the libraries I’m a member of. I really need to get on top of that.) sometimes I’m waiting for the right mood for a particular book. I’ve found some of my favourite books through picking up something that looked interesting at an op shop or library sale, giving it a go, not being that into it, and finally reading the whole thing six months later. or through picking a random book that hasn’t been read for years off the shelf in my family home. sometimes I dip in and out of a book over a long time and never finish and still get a lot from it. I like being able to recommend books to people and lend them out immediately. I like being able to give people books and keep them in circulation. a book is probably cheaper and can definitely be used more times than a movie outing, is how I think of it, and I wouldn’t beat myself up as insufficiently anti-materialist for going to the movies every once in a while.
here’s the other thing: I volunteer at a not-for-profit second-hand bookstore. we get a fuckton of books coming through that I just know would be super cool for the right person. but on our shelves, as random items, not curated in any way, they’re less useful than if someone owned them, even if they didn’t get around to reading them for ages. if nobody buys them they will just stay on the shelves or get put back in the storage room. so that’s kind of a waste too. shelf space in most libraries (municipal or otherwise) is at a premium, so it’s not like we can just donate them all to the local community centre. these books have to circulate through personal collections and loans. so if you have the means and it’s important to you, I think you should strive to read widely, own good books, make helpful book recommendations, and lend generously. given that the society we live in produces a huge amount of stuff whether you buy it or not, I think it’s not necessarily more socially responsible to own less stuff.
having said all that, I’m not any smarter or better-read than when I was moving every couple of weeks and had about two books. the only difference now is that I have a little bit of spare money and a stable home. you become better-read through reading, not through osmosis. & it’s absolutely a luxury to have a large personal collection of books. & it’s super, super depressing when bookishness becomes more about owning and displaying books and less about reading them and recommending them and circulating them and, especially, supporting public libraries.
hmm that could’ve been about 70% shorter, oh well (is this a METAPHOR FOR EXCESS??? maybe!)