The Confessions of a Luddite Book Hoarder

According to Merriam-Webster.com a Luddite is one who is opposed to especially technological change. I work in IT and enjoy technology for the most part. But I have been slow to embrace the change when it comes to my books. At least until now.

After a few years of flirting with the technology I have succumbed and am now the owner of an e-reader. My wife purchased one for my birthday. I playfully posted the photo to the right on my Facebook last week and when I got home from work she met me in the kitchen and asked if I’d like to have a Nook or Kindle as a gift. While I like to think it was the cleverness of my hint I think she had simply finally had enough.

I have one vice. Well, that’s not true as I have more than one, but there is one glaringly obvious one: I can’t stop buying books. While I haven’t arrived at the awful state of affairs that those people on the television show “Hoarders”, I could be on my way if not stopped soon.

In Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, Danny Heitman wrote an excellent article titled E-Books and Life Without Guilt (subscription required). Within it he describes a part of the mania from which I suffer.

My brother Randy, an avid reader since childhood, has gone for e-books in a big way. He loves their convenience and portability. But as he recently confessed to me, the new electronic format has at least one other advantage: Put simply, my brother is no longer haunted by the physical presence of books he hasn’t read.

Like most bibliophiles, Randy still acquires many more titles than he has time to read, but now the neglected texts lie quietly in a digital file, out of sight and out of mind. With traditional books, on the other hand, the guilt of an unread novel, biography or history can linger visibly for a lifetime, the ghost of a good intention never fulfilled.

[snip]

Why then, does someone chastised by so many unread books continue to add to the stockpile? Because when you have a home library, as writer William H. Gass explains, “you are constantly being solicited by good-looking texts to leave your present love for their different, more novel, pleasures.”

I like the reference to courtship here, since it puts a finger on why buying books—and then ditching them unopened or after the briefest of dalliances—is so much fun. This kind of fickle literary speed-dating is, in today’s world, probably the only form of promiscuity that can be indulged without too much ruin.

I have fifteen shelves stuffed with books. I estimate that I own enough volumes to fill twenty-five or more shelves. And while we do have plans to build ten more shelves with a storage hutch along a wall upstairs, you can see that I’ve got to stop. I have begun to sort through my collection as there are at least three or four shelves worth that can be donated. It’s a start anyhow.

The other start was to finally get a Kindle. After being asked to choose the model I wanted, I opted for the Kindle Touch. I did a lot of online research as well as personally testing out various models. In the end I decided I did not want yet another onramp to the internet or apps and all the distractions they bring. Like a friend who is considering the same purchase decision told me yesterday: “I don’t need yet another way to play Angry Birds.” I’ve already got a pc, a laptop, an iTouch and a Droid. No, I want to simply read, and to save space. Oh, and also money as electronic versions are often at least 50% of what the physical book expense is. Several may be had for under dollar if not free.

Twelve years ago I made the decision to put together a home library that my son (at the time we had only one child) and future children would grow up using as well as receiving once I’d left this living plane. There are volumes of myths, fairy tales and fables, histories, poetry, philosophy, theology, comedies and epic storytelling. The crown jewels are the leatherbound editions I own from Easton Press as well as from The Folio Society.

I will still continue to purchase traditionally published books, but with a much more discerning eye.

Most bibliophiles have a bedside stack. Below is a photo of a portion of mine next to the Kindle. I’m not particularly proud of it, but I wanted to demonstrate my dilemma. Consider this: that little Kindle is capable of storing up to 3,000 books. I have for years wanted a copy of the 5-volume Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas. 4,000 pages, over a foot of precious shelf space, and at a price of anywhere between $150-$250. It now resides on that little Kindle. I purchased it last night for 99 cents. My gift has already paid for itself.

What follows is a list of the books in that stack. The Father’s Tale was my Christmas present. I’m a hundred pages into its almost 1,100 so far. I’m also reading the book on the bottom by Fr. Groeschel. And I’m in various stages of reading most of the rest.

  • I Am With You Always: A Study of the History and Meaning of Personal Devotion to Jesus Christ for Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, by Fr. Benedict Groeschel
  • The Landmark Herodotus, by Robert Strassler
  • Master & Commander, by Patrick O’Brian
  • Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love, by Matthew Logelin
  • The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, by Alice Ozma
  • The Father’s Tale, by Michael O’Brien
  • Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen
  • Dove Descending: A Journey into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, by Thomas Howard
  • Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot
  • A Retreat for Lay People, by Ronald Knox
  • Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Last Things, by Regis Martin
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller Jr.
  • Mystery and Manners, by Flannery O’Connor
  • To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostella, by Kevin Codd
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