When I was a child and my parents needed to punish me, they did not spank me, ground me, or make me do extra chores. They took away my books. Generally I get one of three reactions when I tell people this. The most common is a lack of understanding. “How can taking away books be considered a punishment?” The second is disapproval. “Taking books away from a child who wants to read is horrible.” The last (and least common) is a simple nod. People who grew up with their nose between pages get it. They understand not only why this punishment was effective, but also why (as my parents discovered) other forms of punishment just didn’t work. A spanking was a brief pain, quickly forgotten. Being grounded just meant more time to read. Extra chores were more bothersome but also passed quickly. Restricting access to books meant a life without dragons and magic, spaceships and distant worlds. Surely there could be no worse fate.
Fast forward to a few years ago. I am an adult and no one takes away my books. My collection had ballooned to include many hundreds of volumes and the percentage of them I hadn’t read was growing as quickly as the available shelf space was disappearing. Luckily my urge to obtain books ebbed around that time, but it wasn’t until more recently that I actually started purging large portions of my small library. What finally broke through was the realization of a few simple facts:
- The physical book is unimportant. The story is what matters.
- Most books are not rare. If you ever need another copy, it will not be hard to find.
- Books are meant to be read. An unread book is nothing but paper and ink.
I’ve spoken with several people in the process of paring down their belongings and one of the most common hurdles is books. Getting rid of something that has brought joy into your life can often be difficult. But think of the joy your books could bring to others if they weren’t collecting dust on your shelves.