Why is it so hard for me to throw books away?
Lately, I made a big effort to organise the papers I have lying around the house. I worked at a good pace and managed to clear up most of my stuff, even throwing some things away, but not my books. Although we threw away clothes and toys that the kids no longer play with, I was unable to throw away even one book. I love books. Even the ones I do not like, the ones I have not read and those I know I will never read. Books are important. But why?
I think I am not alone in this. Many of us feel protective of books – because they are special. They have always been special. Throughout history, books were a symbol of wisdom, wealth and power. The destruction of books is associated with censure or propaganda.
Books are also special because of the way we read. Reading is a private and unique experience. It is an imaginative act that allows us to conjure up whole worlds. There is something that is fundamentally human about a book.
At the moment, however, books are going through hard times. If we take, for example, what happened here recently, those who genuinely love books were shocked and amazed to see photos of old and precious books being shoved onto a truck to be thrown away. Fortunately, the photos ended up being circulated on social media, the truck that was carrying these historic books was located and the books ended up in the safe hands of Heritage Malta.
Also, with more electronic books being sold than printed books, and without any indication that this trend will be reversed, it appears that printed books are on a downward spiral. Some say that books are obsolete and that we should embrace something that is lighter, quicker, cheaper and more convenient.
But printed books are not dead. Publishers have responded to the phenomenon of electronic books by making the printed book more attractive. In the last few years, Maltese and foreign publishers have made great efforts to produce really beautiful books. These books are prestigious –a glorification of your decision to buy a cultural product at a time when most things are obtained for free.
Books obviously have sentimental value. They have meaning when collected – they are found, bought, read and put on the shelf by you. Shelves full of books, that whoever loves literature finds difficult to let go of, are a reflection of our personality, our cultural identity and our soul. And who is going to throw away part of their soul?
Books have power because we give them power. As we deviate our attention to digital content, maybe this power is diminishing. But maybe not. The sale of vinyl records is increasing; at a time when music can be obtained for free, some are choosing to obtain records that have value. Today you can download 20 music albums, but you can also choose to buy what appeals to you in the form of a limited edition record. This is the beauty of having something tangible in hand.
At the end of the day I think that our shelves full of books will go down the same road. They may be fewer in number, but they will still retain their value.