This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
I like the idea of making books travel, of giving books away. I like to imagine my old books living with more than one loving home. For many years I was part of BorderSenses, a non-profit organization that promotes literature and art. During those years, one of my favorite projects was what I called the BorderSenses Traveling Library. It wasn’t really a library, but a suitcase that we brought to farmers markets and community events. The suitcase was filled with books written by local authors and products from community projects. We would give away the books in exchange for any other books people wanted to donate. Years later, I helped co-found a literary press, Veliz Books, one of whose goals was to create more opportunities for Latin American literature to travel to the United States. The name, Veliz, is a Spanish word meaning “suitcase”.
One of the greatest gifts my husband gave me was to build a small library that we placed in our front yard. Even after several years of having it, I’m still excited when I see someone walk away with a book in their hands, especially if it’s one of the books I put in there. It would be fair to say that one of the joys of my life has been seeing books travel. Still, people who know me aren’t surprised to learn that I have a book embosser who reads “Ex Libris Minerva Laveaga Luna.” The truth is, there are books I could never put down. If you’re looking for considerations for intentionally organizing your personal library, I hope mine helps:
Consider old books you might like Revisit
There are very few books that I have read more than once. I am always surprised when I see my mother reading a book that I know she has already finished. “But there are so many new books out there,” I tell him. She agrees that there are good new books, but the ones she is rereading are good too, she says. The books we re-read have the ability to remind us of past versions of ourselves. Favorite books contain characters we love and would like to remember. I’ve heard people explain re-reading a book like visiting an old house where they once lived. As we walk through each room, we remember details we had forgotten, spaces and experiences that brought us joy. Why wouldn’t you want to come back?
I don’t usually read books more than once, but I visit the ones I like by opening them at random and reading fragments. Sometimes I re-read passages when working on a story or an essay that needs inspiration for a specific element, such as dialogue or imagery. Other times, I open an old book because I miss my language, as it was. I miss the words no one uses anymore, but which are intrinsically linked to the memories of my grandmother and a dear great-uncle. The smallest shelf in my house is the most important. It’s by my bed and there are the books I would save in case of a fire. It is there, among others, that the books of Rosario Castellanos and Juan Rulfo can be found. Their words are like photographs from a bygone era, pages filled with a vocabulary that brings me back in a few sentences to my childhood. If there are any books you would like Dvisit, even if you don’t re-read the whole book, these are books worth keeping.
Consider the idea that piles of unread books speak well of you
There’s a Japanese word used to describe the act of collecting books that won’t be read: tsundoku. The term tsundoku refers to the act of acquiring reading material but letting it accumulate without reading it. We tend to think that the most valuable knowledge is what We already have. However, there is also the idea that the books we buy with the intention of reading, even if we don’t get the chance to read them, reflect an understanding that there is still much to learn. This understanding, an important recognition, would make Socrates proud. A stack of books we want to read shows the humility that comes from true knowledge.
In his book “The black swanNassim Nicholas Taleb uses Umberto Eco’s personal library as an example of what he calls “an anti-library”. Eco owned more books than could be read in a lifetime, but he saw the shelves with unread books as a representation of the knowledge he should remember he didn’t have. Taleb argues that a personal library should contain as much of what we don’t know as possible. Kevin Mims explains the idea brilliantly in his article “All those books you bought but didn’t read? There’s a word for that», appeared in The New York Times in 2018. Mims explains that someone who no longer builds their personal library may have reached the point where they think they know everything they need to know and what they don’t know can’t hurt them. In contrast, “an ever-expanding library understands the importance of staying curious.”
Consider your heritage
In general, for me, choosing which books to keep in my personal library comes down to two considerations: will I pick up that book and read it again (even if it’s just fragments)? If the answer is yes, the book is a keeper.
My second consideration is: is it important that one day my son, my niece or my nephew reads this book? I am well aware that in this case, I have no control over whether or not they will read the books I keep for them. As it stands, I see my son creating his own personal library with books I’ve never read. He has his own taste, independent of mine, and although he usually reads the books I recommend, I don’t know. if he will have time to read all the books that I think will enrich his life. Nevertheless, the ones I keep for him represent my hope for all that he will live.
Books make great gifts
One of my philosophy professors in college used to say that the greatest benefit of having something is that we always have a gift to give. On more than one occasion, I’ve been happy to have kept a book that even though I knew I wouldn’t read again, I kept because it was the kind of book I knew would make a Nice present. Books that inspire or are good company in difficult times make great gifts. During the pandemic, I turned to books that dealt with grief as I tried to understand and overcome my own losses. Some of these books are also the ones I randomly open and read a few pages of when I feel the need for their company. I’ve given other books from this group to friends who might need the company more than I do.
An intentional collection of books begins with the willingness to collect titles that are united in some way. Mine started with novels and short stories because when I started writing that was all I wanted to write. But it is thanks to these authors that I also learned to appreciate poetry and non-fiction. I also like to go on adventures and read books that bring me peace and calm. For me, intentional book collecting doesn’t mean having just one type of book, but collecting books with the overall goal of creating opportunities for me and those I love to find the right words at the right time. I collect books as hopes for future times, to remember a story or a character I loved, to remind me of what I want to learn, to build bridges with the young people in my family and to get gifts for my friends. Intentional book collecting doesn’t need a strict set of rules, only certainty that there is a good reason for it.