About six months ago, I began to get rid of my books.
I’ve grown to dislike owning books. They’re heavy, take up a lot of space, and are generally pretty ugly. So many are phantoms of former lives, stirring up icky feelings – guilt, remorse, disgust – every time their spines catch my eye. I have a strong distaste for many of my old academic philosophy books in particular, but at the same time I feel guilty that, however lousy I might think they are, they’re sitting unread on my shelf when they might be of use to someone else. (It’s odd that the people who fetishize books the most are those most likely to hold them hostage.)
It’s not that I’m reading less. I’m a regular at my library. I occasionally read e-books (though I don’t care for them). I still even buy books. It just seems weird to keep them. The only copies worth keeping are those with sentimental value and those that I’ll read over and over again. This covers about 1% of the books on my shelf. The rest? Off they go.
I considered a bulk donation to charity. But this wasn’t enough of a Project, so I put them on Amazon instead. As others have noted, many books are not worth much. Between time spent listing, time spent packing, time spent at the post office, money spent on envelopes and tape, and Amazon’s fees (which have a floor and thus are particularly hefty for very cheap items) it’s often hard to break even on a sale – and that’s not even counting what I originally paid for the book! I’ve sold about 100 books to date, clearing around $600. Obviously I’m not getting rich. It’s a good thing I’m not doing it for the money.
The best part about selling the items individually is that each sale is like a little going-away party (or funeral, depending on the book). Amazon sends an email – “You’ve sold an item!”. I track down the title on my for-sale shelf, give it a last once-over, pick out any old bookmarks. I make up little stories about the buyer, based on her name and address, making comments to myself along the lines of “Reading Quine? My condolences”. I stand in line at the post office, so that I can send via Book Rate. I enter the total earned into my fancy spreadsheet. It’s a ritual that gives me a chance to reflect on the book one last time before sending it to a better place. I like it.
As the shelves grow barer, I walk a little taller. It’s nice.