The Great Book Burning

It’s been over two decades since all my books went up in smoke. I’m sure they made a lovely bonfire. I had a lot of them, after all. Packed shelves, tall stacks, countless boxes. Because I love books. I even won an award in college for having a great library. Books are good. More is better. No such thing as too many.

Books illustrate identity, too. Before the conflagration, anyone perusing my book collection could easily infer my childhood favorites, my academic background, my hobbies, my fleeting interests, my sense of humor.

And then they were gone. Of all the possessions I lost in the wildfire that destroyed my home and worldly possessions, those books were the most like living things. Even now, after 24 years, I still think about some of them from time to time, like my copy of The Magician’s Nephew with my mother’s inscription inside it, and my two-volume Oxford English Dictionary that had its own magnifying glass. Oh, and so many more. They were all friends I expected to have for life.

In the wake of that cleansing fire, I lived in a motorhome for nearly seven years. (This was by choice. Having no stuff offered an unparalleled opportunity to travel.) In a motorhome, as in any tiny dwelling, space is at a premium. I had room for maybe a dozen books max. They lived in a box, because bookshelves don’t work well in motorhomes. (Books are wonderful, but not when they hit you on the head while driving.)

It was while I was on the road that I learned to keep books moving. Since my box had such a small capacity, I soon found out how rewarding it was to pass along a book I liked with a “When you’re finished, pass it on!” The cooler the book, the more fun this was. “No, please keep it!” “Enjoy!” “You’re welcome!”

These days, I live once again in frame and stucco. I once again have a bookshelf. It holds far more than a dozen books. I still, however, keep my books moving. If I read a book I like, I pass it on, with the same rules as when I was on the road. “Hope you enjoy it! Pass it on if you want to!”

Don’t get me wrong. I still love books. I have simply decided that I need not maintain an archive. If I find I need a book that I once owned but passed along, I buy another one. Buying books keeps authors writing. And what is more delightful than book shopping, especially in a real bookstore?

No fire could extinguish my love of books. I still love them, buy them, and read them. The difference is, I don’t keep them. No fire can ever destroy my library again. My books are out there where I think they are happiest: circulating.

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