“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” 
― Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

I’ve lost my Kindle E-reader and I’m not sure I want to replace it. Not that I didn’t like it. I did. I used it all the time. It was the last thing I read before going to sleep. A chapter or two of an engaging novel in a darkened room and I was sleeping peacefully in no time. It traveled with me constantly, giving me a private library at the airport and transporting me to a world of my own when the flight crew turned the lights out in an effort to lull the passengers to sleep after clearing the dinner trays.

And yet I never gave up physical books. I always had a book laying around in the kitchen to read at lunchtime, take out on the patio, or grab on my way to an appointment. A book is always there for you, fully charged and on “airplane mode” when the captain says to turn off electronic devices. Airports have tempting bookstores where you can scan the shelves of new releases or best sellers, find a new author, or pick up an old favorite to share with the person you’re about to visit. The only bookstores more irresistible are the ones that sell used books.

The definition of irresistible: a used bookstore in Mendocino

Lately though, I’ve been closing my evening with a Seinfeld episode or two to end the day on a cheerful note before reading that last chapter or two in bed. I was struck by an early episode called “The Girlfriend,” where Jerry wonders why anyone would want a book back if they’ve already read it. In fact, why even keep it? This was just after someone told me that Marie Kondo, the queen of tidying up, said you should only keep thirty books. (This has been amply refuted all over the internet as a misunderstanding of her philosophy.)

They raise a valid question, though—why keep books around the house at all? They’re bulky and heavy and hard to move, and yet it took me twenty years and five apartments to part with most of my college textbooks. After many moves and life changes I am still surrounded by books, some of which I admit I may never read. Holding on to books goes beyond reading to the deeply contextual and personal place of books in our lives. Books store our history.

So why books?  

 Books mean home. I grew up in a home with books and my first reading experiences can be traced to long summer afternoons when I would idly browse through a book plucked from the living room shelves.

A piece of home. . . reading Nancy Drew, American Dependents’ School, Tehran, Iran. 1954.

Books shore up our identity. When my dad had to move into a single room in assisted living, we moved in his bookshelves with his collection of wartime cryptography books, favorite biographies, Churchill’s History of World War II, the Elizabeth George and Dick Francis mysteries he loved. Just living with his books sustained his sense of who he was and communicated it to others.

Who he was . . . Dad browsing through used books at Humboldt University in Berlin, even though most of them are in German. 2004.

Books feel solid. The very bulk and heft that makes them hard to move contribute to a feeling of steadiness. Books give your room a permanent look that speaks of comfort and stability even in your fifth apartment.

Books spark memories. The books my parents gathered when we were moving to Iran are precious to me now. Many of them were already old when my parents bought them in the 1950’s  Their very names — Blind White Fish in Persia (1953), Midnight Marches Through Persia (1879), The Strangling of Persia (1912) – take me back to a cherished place in my life.

Books are timeless. My well-worn copy of Alice in Wonderland has gone through the hands of three little girls, as the signatures of myself, my daughter, and granddaughter attest. I browse through used books so that I can place Goodnight Moon, Heidi or The Wizard of Oz on the lower shelves of the room where my grandchildren sleep when they stay over. Their faded covers and worn bindings add to the continuity of the children’s space.

All at the age of seven.

Books are beautiful. Why did the Disney movie show Beauty and the Beast dancing in a library? Not so long ago people bought books from the printer’s and had them bound by the bookbinder in matching cloth or leather covers with gold titles on the spine to give their library a solid yet elegant aesthetic. Hard-cover books are still valued for interior decorating, chosen for a size and color that complement the room and define a space. At one time I liked the library look of one room full of books, but now I spread books through every room of the house, bringing them into everyday life.

Books build community. When I finish a book that I think someone else would like, I can hardly wait to pass it on to them the next time we get together.  If I give it away, I don’t worry about getting it back. I hope they pass it on to somebody else. The book boxes of the Little Free Library movement can be seen all over the world.


A free library box in Dixon, California.

Now that I’ve lost my e-book, I’ve rediscovered the fun of looking through the library used-book store. Paperbacks are only 50 cents; most hard-covers are a dollar. I even bring them back and get more, but unlike regular library books I am free to keep them or give them away if I feel like it. Last week I brought in four paperbacks I had read. Two had come from the used-book store itself. The third, Man from Beijing by Henry Mankell, I had picked up at a sharing library in my apartment in Germany years ago and the fourth, My Sister’s Keeper, I had bought at the airport to read on the plane on my last trip. As I looked for a few more books to take home and read, another woman spotted the airport book. The volunteer at the desk said, oh, that’s by Jodi Picoult, we can hardly keep those on the shelf.

That little book was out the door and back into the community within minutes.

 “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” 
― Cicero

And thanks to:

Free Little Library: https://littlefreelibrary.org/

Goodreads Quotes about Books: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/books

2 thoughts on “Why Books

  1. Hi Gail,

    Hope you are doing well. How is everything in RSM?Your blog was very interesting. Looking forward to walking again soon. I’m boarding from Narita at 5:00pm here.

    Take care and see you soon!


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. I have similar feelings about books. They are a part of my personal identity and record of memories. The old collection of Edger Allen Poe stories reminds me of rainy Saturday afternoons reading with my mom. I have a collection of books on organizing, which remind me of organizing my first apartment. I still can’t get rid of them. I have a collection of Girl Scout handbooks I love to reread that remind me of all the fun times we had with my friend growing up. Books can also be old friends. I read some over and over again such as “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, “Glass Castle” and “ The Solace of Open Spaces”, which for various reasons give me comfort.
    It is also one of the things that Rick and I have in common. We can get lost for hours in a used book store. They are so much more interesting than a new bookstores, because you can see, on the shelf, the history of thought on a subject.

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