« back to articles

Avaricious Collector Lets Go

or how I stopped hoarding and learned to love BookCrossing
by ordgddss
February 18, 2004
I am a collector. I don’t collect rare chess pieces made from the horns of virgin rhinoceri. Nor do I collect Star Wars memorabilia (though I must confess several Star Trek pieces have found their ways into my home - gifts from friends, family and co-workers – well, most of them). No, I’m a different kind of collector. I collect books.

Not first editions (I do have a few – Rodney Stone is a prized possession that I hope to read someday), not coffee table books displaying photos of used athletic shoes as art installations, not how-to-books about bologna origami.

Nothing so focused as that, I assure you.

Instead I collect every book I’ve ever bought. My home is much like the Roach Motel, but for books – they check in, but they never check out. Never again to see the light of day, unless I happen to be rereading them. Even books that I’m not particularly fond of, but have somehow managed to enter my humble abode – by authors such as Danielle Steele or Sandra Brown, for example – are subject to the tastefully furnished book-black-hole that is my apartment, destined to sit languishing on my bookshelves, collecting dust and cat-hair tumbleweeds.

Why? Who can say? My innate pack-rat nature, my childhood as a naval brat, my need to have ready reference at my fingertips, should a vaguely remembered line pop into the scary place of my mind and my burning curiosity screams to be satisfied? All these reasons - and more - no doubt figure into the collection of books that has grown, slowly but steadily, over the last 25 (or more) years. And no, I have no idea how many books I own. I know that it’s not an impressive collection, at least compared to those of some people I’ve known over the years. But the number of books in my home still outstrips my available shelf space. Thank heavens at least half of the books I’ve read over my lifetime have been library books; otherwise I’d have no place to walk.

I will admit the advent of the internet has helped to lessen the obsession with using my volumes as reference. A quick search on Google will usually produce the desired attribution much faster than leafing through the pages resting on my shelves. But, much as I’ve embraced computers and the internet, I’m still in agreement with Rupert Giles: “Books smell musty and rich. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um... smelly."

So when my dear friend gryffud told me about BookCrossing and invited me to my first MeetUp in August 2003, I cocked my head to the side, raised an eyebrow and pondered the concept. I liked the philosophy behind it: books just wanna be free. Simple, evocative, egalitarian. What a wonderful and unique way to bring people together and share a common love of words. But when I considered converting thought to action I felt pain and bewilderment. Could an avaricious old collector like myself bear to part with any of her collection?

Initially – no. The first book that I wanted to release was one that demanded to be shared. But there was no way I could leave it out in the cold, cruel world. So I bought a second copy to release, was able to get a personal inscription from the author to the lucky soul who would stumble across it and, hopefully, pass it on, and left it in a favorite coffee shop. Unfortunately there have been no further journal entries for that lovely book, but I live in hope that someone, someday, will catch, read, record and release.

Since that fateful day I’ve been able to let go of a tiny percentage of my collection. I doubt that I’ll ever make a dent in the books on my shelves – and dining table and computer table and above my microwave and, well, other flat surfaces – but knowing that I’m capable of letting go of such wondrous vehicles of words and ideas so that others can enjoy what I’ve enjoyed (or perhaps enjoy what I haven’t – better that the lesser liked books find someone that can appreciate them) fills me with an indescribable excitement, makes me feel a bit less greedy. And apparently exceptionally verbose.

Now if only I could find a way to let go of all of those video tapes…

Are you sure you want to delete this item? It cannot be undone.