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Giving Away My Books (I Think)
March 4, 2012 - 8:30pm

I think that I'm ready to part with my most cherished physical books. Only a couple of years ago this thought would have been unimaginable. Books are the center of our culture, the core of my belief system, and the basis of my personal philosophy. I am a person of the book (literally).  

But I think I'm ready to let them all go. Divesting oneself of cherished books at age 42 seems premature, but perhaps the digital book revolution has altered the book owning lifecourse in ways we have yet to appreciate.

Among my most cherished corporeal books that I'm contemplating parting with (and on exactly how I would do so I am foggy), include:

  • A complete hardcover set Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization (in 11 volumes). I bought this set used as a gift to myself after finishing my Ph.D. For years I've promised that I'd read each book, but mostly I've enjoyed looking at the volumes and on my bookshelf.   
  • A bunch of big books on the history of the world, including The Columbia History of the World, The Pelican History of the World, A Concise Economic History of the World, and A Concise History of World Population.
  • Over the years I've also collected atlases and geographic books, including the National Geographic Atlas of World History, the HarperCollins Atlas of World History, and The Hammond Atlas of World History.
  • Throw in all these books with some remaining social science reference books (like Methods and Materials of Demography - what we called in grad school the "Big Red Book"), and some classics (from Boorstin to Heilbroner to Hobsbawm to Telushkin) and the house has a pretty good library.

For better or for worse (and there is much of both to discuss), the book of today has been separated from its physical host. My books travel on electrons, on e-paper, and on audio files. They live mostly on one company's servers (Amazon), and are transmitted via an ever changing parade of devices made by Apple (iPods) and Amazon (Kindles).  

A valued book is no longer one that I admire and cherish on my bookshelf, but one that is discussed and debated by people in my professional and social networks. Books are portals to both ideas and people, and reading has moved from an individual to a networked experience.

Am I crazy or deluded (or both) to want to give all these books away? (Maybe under the mind control of Jeff Bezos?).  

Do houses that lack physical books represent the end of culture as we know it? 

What are your most loved physical books?

How many books do you own that you see as lifelong companions? (And which ones?)

Are you ready to part with your most cherished books?


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