Several years ago I lived in a small house by the sea. When I first moved there, I brought my burgeoning library with me, many hundreds of books. My bedroom and living room were the library: every wall was lined with bookcases. Some bookcases were simply bricks and boards, an inexpensive substitute for the beautiful wood cases in which I prefer to stock my collection. The rooms that had no unclaimed wall space stored stacked boxes of precious volumes of paperbacks that were friends and guides at various points in my life. The bricks and boards that clung to walls went nearly high as the ceiling, and with every room well-lined, I had trouble finding a place to hang my dozen or so Thomas Kinkade paintings I also enjoy collecting. There was no room for my bed, so I slept in the living room, surrounded with a comforting presence of bricks and boards and books and paintings. Occasionally I had to dance over a pile of unread manuscripts waiting to be devoured, but usually my place was tidy enough to entertain guests and visitors.
And then a long time friend decided to confront me with my bibliomania.
“You have to get rid of your books,” he told me. “When was the last time you looked at these? How many will you read again?”
“But they are great resources, hard to replace, and valuable warehouses of information!” I argued passionately.
He remained unmoved. “Half of the books have to go,” came the concerned if unwanted advice.
“How about a quarter of them?” I pleaded. He was a dear friend who had my best interests at heart but simply didn’t understand what love can do to a man.
I lost the argument, went to a moving company and bought ten large packing boxes. Painfully, over weeks of sorting out Sartre from coffee table books on sailing ships, the Chronicles of Narnia from Chinese mythology, Moral medical ethics from Mystical writings of the Kabbalah, tracts of philosophy, theology, science and psychology — countless critical insights gleaned for the betterment of mankind were mercilessly weeded out and packed away under the baleful critical eye of my friend who felt I was obsessed with a fondness for unnecessary and outgrown toys. The deed was done. I took the boxes to a faraway Church that now has a flourishing library.
My bed moved back into the bedroom. Order replaced chaos; balance and harmony were restored as wall spaces blossomed with newly hung paintings that I hadn’t seen since I’d hidden them away in closets years ago. It was as if the great ice age had ended and a vibrant warmth and vitality began to flow and flourish; windows were flung open and spring cleaning could begin again.
All to my chagrin. Oh, I suppose I was happier that I have room to set up an office where I can look things up online that no longer require manual search and rescue efforts of sorting through precariously balanced piles of history, fiction and romance.
Curiously, though, the same friend has unintentionally reintroduced me to my lost joys of collecting, much as Mr. Toad in "The Wind in the Willows" had his driving privileges restored by the solicitous Ratty and Mole. Later, my same friend was currently moving and sorting through his library, bringing over handfuls and occasionally small boxes of books that deserve a good home. My eyes moist with misty glee, I once again began to fill old dark spaces where a once-toothless smile in bookcases now gleams with proudly standing classic tomes of insight. Some paintings have been sold to make room for new bricks and boards. As living space contracts, my heartfelt joy expands.
Some say happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. I find it is a curious balance between the two.
Now if I can only find that book of quotes in the second or third row stacked on the same shelf in some forgotten corner that says this more succinctly.