A Reader’s Affliction

July 3, 2007 | 2 2 min read

In the Indian newspaper Business Standard, Nilanjana S. Roy declares “There is always a point in the life of the avid reader when you have to make a choice between your books and your sanity.” She is not saying that reading will drive you mad but that the multiplying volumes owned by many book lovers could.

I love having books around, and Mrs. Millions and I certainly have a lot. I’ve found that our book collection is quite fluid, expanding to fill the vessel it occupies – the result being that in our large apartment in Chicago the shelves seemed to fill as soon as we put them up, with additional stacks spreading to any available surface like some sort of creeping mold. In our slightly smaller row house in Philadelphia, at least half of our collection has been relegated to the basement. But we like the books we own, and to keep it that way we go through the occasional purge. (See the post Options for Basement Booksellers for ways to conduct your own purges.)

Getting back to Roy, her suggestions for keeping the towering book piles at bay are fairly creative: conduct regular “inspections” of your library; follow the “one in, one out” rule; spend more to buy less by sticking with hardbacks; use the library more. I’m sure that if, as I mused yesterday, digitizing personal book collections were feasible, she would suggest that as well. As it stands now, she says she’s “beginning to follow the ‘Google Books’ rule; if a book is available online in sufficiently reasonable form, it will only be bought in book form if the edition is rare enough or beautiful enough to justify this.” Not a bad idea, but I’d likely only follow that rule if the book was for reference rather than reading. And anyway, we’re moving to a bigger place soon, so that means plenty more shelf space to fill.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. Patrick and I sold or gave away about a third of our book collection when we moved from Iowa back to Los Angeles. This was heartbreaking of course, but we only got rid of books we didn't much care for–and now we don't miss them.
    Also, I only buy one book at a time, and I rarely buy a book unless I'm going to read it right away. This way, I don't have piles upon piles of unread books.

  2. I am not sure I like her idea of doing away with a book if it is available online. Like you and other book lovers, our book shelves sag because we just love their physical presence. In my mind, hardly anything is better than a roomful of books.

    At nine bookshelves and counting, this summer my husband and I have finally started to whittle down the collection.

    Thanks for a nice post.

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