A personal finance writer once observed that anyone who needs to rent storage has too much stuff. And, in general, I agree. But consider my situation: I have been writing a book a year for over a decade now. For every title I publish, I receive 25 copies of the hardcover, then 25 copies of the paperback. My UK publisher sends at least 25 copies, while the other foreign publishers, fourteen or fifteen to date, send five copies of each title. There also are books, on tape and CD, and ? well, you can see where this is going. In fact, there's probably a way to construct a mathematical equation to calculate how many of my own books I have, but let's just say ? a lot. So I have a storage space and I have been slowly transporting my books there, ten boxes at a time, every Thursday. (Thursdays because the public storage place is en route to my weekly gig at Viva House, a soup kitchen in Southwest Baltimore, and I love to make all driving trips two-fers if possible.) I should be done in two or three more weeks, I think, and then I can start thinning out the rest of my books, the ones not written by me.
I believe in buying books. Radical statement to make at Powells.com, but I've always been bold that way. I believe in buying more books than I have space for. I believe in buying more books than I can, reasonably, expect to read in a lifetime. But how to justify those beliefs?
It's easier to rationalize buying books for which I don't have space ? I give books away, all the time. Granted, there are some books I would never dream of parting with, but there are plenty of novels, no matter how much I admire them, that I find easy to send to new homes. Plus, there's the issue of karma. If I want people to buy my books, then I should buy books, too. And if, by giving the book away, I help the writer find a new fan, isn't that a win-win-win? Just last night, I gave a young guest a copy of Half Magic. Granted, I also found out that we had three copies of that book, but so it goes. That simply means I can find two more recruits for the cult of Edward Eager.
How does one justify buying more books than one can read in a lifetime? That's trickier, but here's my take on it ? a book is never wasted, sitting on a shelf, waiting for its moment. Food spoils, books don't. My sister recently confided to me that she's going to try and read only books currently in her house. I've tried that, too, and failed miserably.
Last night, I happened to hunker down with another young guest, who's working his way through the Oz books. We were leafing through Ozma of Oz, trying to remember the name of the princess who changed her head every day, picking one to suit her mood. Princess Langwidere! Well, that's how I feel about books. I need a huge supply because who knows what mood I'll be in at any given moment? And given that I don't hoard them, I can't see the harm done.
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Laura Lippman, author of What the Dead Know, was a Baltimore Sun reporter for twelve years. Her novels have been awarded every major prize in crime fiction. The first-ever recipient of the Mayor's Prize for Literary Excellence, she lives in Baltimore, Maryland.