Nearly a decade ago, back when I was a teeny tiny highschooler with an insatiable desire to devour books, I never imagined little ol’ me of ever owning shelves and shelves and shelves of books. Back when all I could do was read the paltry collection of middle-grade books – and two Sweet Valley High contemporary editions for some reason – in my school’s pathetic excuse of a library, I never dreamed that I’d be the conflicted owner of hundreds of books across nearly all genres. I was a simple bookworm that was happy to hold any kind of fiction book back then, never assuming that one day I’d fill every shelf space of my own room.
Yet here I am.
Just so we’re clear, I’m not writing this post to flex or anything. In fact, a deep shame overcomes me whenever I take the time to assess the pandemonium that is my to-be-read (TBR) shelves. That’s why I haven’t been able to organize it as orderly as I’d prefer. Or so I tell myself.
How did it come to this? How did I lose track of how many books I own to a point where every available flat surface in my room has at least one stack of books on it? And why can’t I stop myself from buying more books? (No joke, the week before, I bought four secondhand books online and they arrived last Monday afternoon. I don’t know where to put them.)The first time I was aware that I had bought a little bit too many books to read at a time was way back on my first go of college, my pre-med days when I hadn’t fully understood how devastatingly demanding the course was. I was a freshman, I think, and had gotten into the habit of spending my Saturday afternoons on a book-hunting frenzy in Book Sale. I remember developing an eagle eye when it comes to spotting hidden gems underneath all the coffee table books and paperback erotica. More often than not, I’d leave the store with a plastic bag of books that I’d then have to smuggle into my room without either of m my parents seeing and asking questions.
At some point, I had somehow collected a stack of books to read and felt a surge of delight at the sight of so many unread paperbacks. In hindsight, the stack only probably had six books, not all that impressive to me now. Regardless, I proudly kept my TBR stack in a paper bag so they wouldn’t get dusty. I’d like to point out that while I was happy to have so many books to read at the time, I was aware that I had bought too many and that I may need to slow down a bit, if only so I could have enough time to get through all of the books on my TBR.
Unfortunately, as I would later learn countless times over, I rarely listen to my common sense when it comes to books.
It didn’t take long for the paper bag to fall apart from all the weight and no matter how many times I taped over the tears, there just wasn’t enough room in the poor thing. When I transferred my TBR stack on the modest shelf space on my bed’s headboard, I may have grown cocky and got even more books to fill out the space. Counterproductive, I know, but I was young and wild.
Eventually, I was able to sequester a convenient wooden bookcase with three shelves perfect for stacking my fast-growing TBR. You’d think having one book stand dedicated to all the books I have yet to read would be enough to get me to reassess my book-buying habits. After all, it’s going to take some time to clear even one shelf of books, let alone three. And it took me no time at all to reach a point where I had to double stack because I was running out of space.
When my sister cleared out her wooden case (of similar design to mine), I quickly pounced on it. Originally, it was to hold a few of my finished books (my book cabinet also ran out of space) but it became clear to me that my TBR stacks could easily fill that tri-shelved bookcase. So I got creative and fixed up the drawers on my book cabinet so each compartment had clumsily constructed shelves. Those two drawers currently house books that I don’t mind not seeing for long periods of time (mostly boarding school dramas and pulp fiction books).
You might be thinking that two bookcases, a total of six shelves, and god knows how many book stacks is overdoing it just a smidge. How can anyone possibly dream of making a dent on such a towering TBR list? Well… I haven’t even gotten to the third bookcase.
This third bookcase came into my life originally as a fixture to hold my shoes, school supplies, and other miscellaneous bits that I’ve collected over the years (a layman would consider half of the things I stuffed in that squat, awkward piece of furniture garbage but I digress). With my TBR pile reaching heights of absurd proportions, I had no choice but to repurpose the thing as a bookcase. I had to disassemble two of its shelves because it just wasn’t designed to hold anything more than pairs of shoes. Even after my alterations, a mass market paperback can just barely stand vertically on the shelves. And don’t get me started on how the lowest shelf droops to the center for some bizarre reason (it wasn’t my because of my books, I swear).
The third bookcase of mine is an odd thing but it does its job. You can imagine how little time passed before its shelves were spilling with book stacks.
Looking back on my hasty and obsessive book buying habits, I realized just how cathartic I used to view my little Book Sale visits. Pre-med college was quite a lonely time for me. I had a group of friends but I never truly felt like I connected with them that well. Honestly, the only reason we came together was because we were in the same block and our other classmates were too intense to talk with. More than once I’d come up with some weak excuse to leave my group so I could hit up some book stores in the area. I could have told them the truth, that I wanted to look at books for a while, but I knew that they wouldn’t really understand and, at the time, I didn’t have the confidence to try and explain myself. It’s a little cliche but book stores really were my escape back in those days.
When I transferred to a different university, I was able to find people that I felt a genuine connection with. I didn’t have to hide my love for books because most of them shared the same passion. I didn’t need to spend my Saturdays all by myself in my little world of books anymore. Mostly because I joined the university publication and had very little time for myself anymore but it was for the best.
However, even after getting acquainted with real live people and overcoming a few of my insecurities, I haven’t been able to shake off my dependence on getting new books to feel happiness. It’s ingrained too deeply in my tiny brain. I try to exercise restraint every so often but then I’ll find myself heading to the bookstore when I go out or browsing the online book selling group on Facebook when I’m bored and, before I realize what I’ve done, I’ve somehow acquired five new books. It’s a little concerning sometimes to be honest. And now that I’ve got myself a Kindle where I can get new ebooks at literally one click… let’s just say I haven’t gotten any better.
Damn. That *emotional* tag started as a joke but now I’ve just written way too much about myself. It’s like I’m fifteen on Tumblr again. Oops.