On Being a Book Hoarder

Life as a book hoarder . . . buying multiple copies of favorite books to make it easy to give them away

Recently, I moved apartments.

For a one-bedroom renter I had a rather shocking number of boxes. My two movers stared, open-mouthed, as I walked them around the place.

“You live alone?” Mover #1 asked. I suddenly understood how Mary Tyler Moore must have felt. “Why do you have so many boxes?”

I shrugged. “Books.”

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“Wow, you must read a lot,” commented Mover #2.

“Maybe you should go out more. Meet a boy. Read less,” suggested Mover #1 as a television voice in my head told me You’re going to make it after all!

What I didn’t have the heart to tell either of my movers was that many of the boxes were full of duplicates.

I am a hoarder of books. But unlike many of the rather terrifying hoarders featured on television, I don’t hoard books solely because of some insane need to collect. I hoard books so I can give them away.

Staring at the bookshelf closest to me, I spy three copies of Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, four copies of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, and three identical copies of Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came To The End. I am pretty sure I have two copies of The Bell Jar and around seven copies of Aimee Bender’s short stories.

For me, books are a type of nourishment. So when I have people over for parties, I don’t just stuff them full of chips and salsa. I usually try to send them home with one of my favorite novels.

Of course, such hospitality isn’t always appreciated. At my last party I tried to give away To Kill A Mockingbird one time too many. “Why are you giving me homework?” cried a houseguest as I eagerly shoved the lavender paperback into his hands while simultaneously praising Atticus Finch. “Where do you keep the beer?”

More often than not, however, my friends would humor me and take the offered book. And for a long time, I loaned out my only copies . . . never to have them returned. So I started being proactive: I started buying multiple copies of the same book. That way, if I loaned out The Virgin Suicides but wanted some inspiration for my own writing, I would still have my own book to peruse. Additionally, autographed copies were never loaned out. I’ve actually bought an additional copy of a book so I wouldn’t have to lend someone my autographed version.

In the past few years, things have become a tad trickier – and more expensive – with the addition of new covers and my recent procurement of a passport. A year ago, I visited London. Of course I wanted to stop in every bookstore I passed. While browsing these elegant bookstores, I discovered my favorite novels with totally different covers.

The first time I found one of my beloved books with a new cover, I started clapping in excitement, which in turn startled the proper bookstore employees and caused them to jump half an inch. (It was all very British.) So there I was, shelling out basically double a book’s value in Euro (as compared to American prices) just so I could have another copy of a novel I already owned two or three times over.

And of course that copy won’t get loaned out, either.

I simply adore my books; and like Sméagol with his shiny gems, I enjoy staring at “my precious.” Unlike that poor creature, I’ll loan them out with the hope that my guests will want to talk about the book with me after they finish reading them and not want to push me into the fiery pits of Mordor.

As the movers finished unloading the truck at my new apartment, I immediately started unpacking my books. When the job was done, I asked if they wanted a copy of David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day. They did not. They did accept the extra cans of Coca Cola, however, and the high tip.

You can’t make readers out of everyone. But you can always try.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

  • Cody

    I love this and I am the same way. I love owning tons of books, especially to give out. I know right now that I have at least three copies of my favorite book, just in case. You are not alone. If I knew where you lived I would be at your house all the time. It would be hard for me to leave because Id want to take like 7 boxes. haha.

    • Cody, I have to ask: what’s your favorite book?

      • Cody

        My favorite book is “Music of the Dolphins” by Karen Hesse. It’s a children s book but it grew up with me.

  • N

    This writer is so witty. And you should always trust someone that has a lot of books.

  • Susan Williams

    LOl, understand completely. Glad there is a crowd of us!

  • Mary paquette

    I see a young women, when I look at you, but inside I see a Old Soul. Love the way you express yourself, always your thoughts are enjoyable reading

  • Andrew Orihuela

    What a lovely post!

    • Sue

      We Are In Good Company…A Good Obsession

  • Sayluhvee

    Movers are not crazy about book hoarders, I’ve found. Neither the professional ones nor the volunteer ones!

  • pat

    Loved reading your comments. When my husband asked what I was going to with all “these” books, I told him they are the key to my longevity. I cannot die until I have read them all.

  • Tracy

    I also never give out my autographed copies, even if I didn’t love the book. There is just something special about them. My book shelves are packed and the *to be read* piles lives in my closet. You should try World Book Night. 20 copies of a book to give away that you don’t have to pay for, but can still use to encourage reading to those either les fortunate or non-readers.

  • paquin

    I’m so glad I have found you & the other commentators. My husband too is mystified abt all my books – which I love dearly. He is always saying I am the cause of our not being able to move yet, so I guess it is proof that he loves me (over 50yrs) and puts up with it. Haven’t read all of them (now down to 3000), because I was intending to keep a lot for ‘my old age’ – which to many ‘young’uns’ seems to be now!!! Books are such a lifetime pleasure though.

  • Carole

    I hoard because I need to be able to reread them when ever I want. My family and friends don’t understand it either 😉

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