I own a lot of books. Hundreds of them. Earlier this year, my partner strongly suggested I do one of two things: either get them all organized in one place or get rid of them.
I went with organization.
Sure, it would be easier to simply get rid of them, donate them to a local charity or a school, but I can’t do that. Why? Because I read books more than once.
Not ALL books. I keep books that I love, that impressed me in some way, or touched me, made me think, made me change. I have this habit, not sure if it’s good or bad, of going back to these titles every few years and reading them again.
Partly it’s because I want to be reminded of why I loved the story in the first place. Sometimes it’s to be inspired by something I think is incredibly creative or well-written. Other times, it’s to see if the book still affects me the same way, or if I get something different out of it.
For example, I’ve re-read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse five or six times over the years. The first time was when I was very young, maybe nine or ten. The book was given to me by a family member who was in college at the time. I read it, enjoyed it, but didn’t quite understand it. However, I think it laid the foundation for my later interest in Buddhism.
Each time I’ve read this book, at different stages in my life, I’ve gotten something new out of it. A different perspective. I think that’s both wonderful and inspiring. I hope that Hesse would be proud to know that his novel can touch and inspire a reader nearly one hundred years after it was published.
The same goes for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I first read this novel, a fictionalized autobiography that explores “the metaphysics of quality”, when I was a teenager. It was deep and difficult on the first read, but I still got something out of it, a different view on my life and who I was at the time.
I re-read the book again in my twenties, then again in my late thirties. Each time, I came away from it with new ideas, new perspectives. I clearly remember the last time I finished it. I read the last page, sat the book on the bed beside me, then stared at the book cover with a smile on my face. I still have the paperback version I bought decades ago. It’s high time I read it again.
I feel that good books, much like good movies or television programs, deserve a second or third look. Sure, I may remember where the story goes or how it ends, but that’s not the point. The thing is to read it with different eyes, a different perspective, maybe (if I’m lucky) with a bit more maturity.
I think I finally got my partner to understand. She now re-reads books she likes. That makes me happy. Not just because she sees these great stories as something worth keeping, but also because she’s less likely to complain about my ever-growing collection.