My mom likes to joke sometimes that books are bad for my health. For example, they ruin my eyesight because I can’t help reading them even in poor lighting. Or I stunted my growth because these bookish thoughts took up too much of my mental energy. Worst of all, I lose sleep at night when I become too engrossed in a book.
My mom also encourages me to check books out from the library before buying them. But as soon as I arrived at Berkeley and encountered cheap, second-hand bookstores, her advice went out the window. I bought every book that looked remotely interesting to me.
So it might not surprise you that my towering bookshelf at home is so full of books that it has become an earthquake hazard. I admit to being a hoarder of knowledge. I collect scraps of information and never let them go.
It took a unique book, Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy, to help me realize how much junk I’d accumulated. Kondo advocates getting rid of clutter to make room for the real belongings I love and enjoy. As I sorted through the giant pile of books, I discovered children’s books that I’d hung on to in case I wanted to give them to my future children. I also had kept textbooks that I sometimes used to tutor students. Then there were books I knew I didn’t have time to read but stared at wistfully from time to time.
After clearing out many of the books I knew I didn’t love or need, I felt more excited than ever to read the books that were still standing proudly on the shelves.
For example, my Harry Potter series sits prominently in a place of honor. You can see how I grew up within its physical pages. When I was younger, I would read Harry Potter every summer as I ate chocolate popsicles. There are ice cream stains throughout Sorceror’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Several pages of Prisoner of Azkaban are even detached. But the higher up we go in the series, the books look increasingly pristine. By the time we get to Deathly Hallows, the book looks almost new.
It seems that as I grew up, I learned to treasure my belongings more. But I also kept Deathly Hallows in great condition by forbidding anyone else to handle it. Maybe the well-worn condition of the earlier books is a sign that I loved them more, and shared them with other people.
Books not only reflect the person I’ve become, but also make me a better person. I enjoy writing so much precisely because I love reading books. I’m lucky to have grown up in a home that was full of books, unlike poor Matilda. In this digital world, books are the anchors in a sea of information. They just carry more weight.
This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write a post for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.