Don’t Throw Away Your Bookshelf

don't throw away your bookshelf

“Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.” – Stephen Fry

There was a time when you walked into a house and saw a row of CD’s in a tower or on a shelf. It grabbed your attention. You wandered toward it and began to inspect it. What kind of music do they listen to? I love that Third Eye Blind album. Backstreet Boys? Really? Oh, Chumbawumba. Tubthumping brings me back.

A CD collection was a showcase of who you were and who you wanted to be. How you wanted to be seen. Then along came the iPod. Poof! Shelves of CD’s largely disappeared, and those that didn’t now send a different message. It’s no longer a statement about your music collection – it’s a statement about how out of touch you are with modern technology.

Bookshelves are also under fire. Books are heavy and difficult to move. Book collections have a tendency to grow over time. Pages fade to yellow and paperbacks fall apart. Fewer and fewer people have bookshelves prominently displayed in their homes. This is a tragedy to me, because I am a book lover. I can’t be near a bookshelf without snooping. What are they reading? What books have we both read? Are they more interesting than I thought? Less?

Don’t misunderstand me – I dreamed of e-ink in elementary school, and the Kindle is a fulfillment of that dream. While I lament the decline of bookshelves I also embrace the convenience of a hundred books in your pocket. Traveling is a much more enjoyable experience when you aren’t lugging around 5 hardcover books.

When I read a book on the Kindle that impacts me, I purchase a physical copy for my bookshelf. Why? My bookshelf helps me REMEMBER. Every time I sit in the red armchair that faces the shelf, I look at the titles. When I look at the titles I am reminded of what they contain. Remembering is important. In an age where information is abundant and ephemeral, we must take time to REMEMBER if we are to benefit from it.

Each time my eyes pause on the spine of a book and read it’s title, I remember a piece of that book. I remember that REWORK is about bootstrapping startups while having a life and using common sense, Made to Stick is about the power of stories, Mountains Beyond Mountains is about a lone individual dedicating his life to a worthy cause. I remember that The End of Poverty teaches that sweatshops and low-income labor are often more liberating than harmful, Bowling Alone shows over and over again that we act as generations, The Black Swan is about knowing that you know very little and that randomness rules your life.

When CD’s disappear we may still remember the songs during shuffle play. Books don’t shuffle play. As bookshelves disappear, so do the books that were on them, and so does our recall of their ideas. Keep your bookshelves to remember ideas. Keep your bookshelves to share ideas. Keep your bookshelves.

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  • Jeff Rosenbaugh November 25, 2014 at 3:59 am

    Sometimes it kills me how similarly we think. I’ve started listening to audio books on my commute as well and have found that I frequently end up buying a hardcover of anything that inspired me. Then I re-read the hardcover with highlighter in hand.

    I still have more books on my shelf than I’ve had a chance to read, but if nothing else I am able to find inspiration as I explore the shelves too find the one book I really need to be reading at that moment.

    • derek November 25, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      I’m glad I’m not the only one!

      You mention a point that I wanted to include in this post – it’s important to have books on the shelf that you haven’t read yet. I’ve read maybe 80% of the books I own and I love that the other 20% is just waiting for me.