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

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