Why I Learned To Let Go Of The Books I Love

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By Kerri Jarema

Confession time: I've always dreamed of having a big dusty garage or a creaky old attic full of boxes. Weird, I know. But in my dreams those boxes are filled with all of my old mementos. The Beverly Hills, 90210 t-shirt I slept in all through first grade; the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers trading cards my Abuela bought for me from a street fair one sunny summer afternoon; the Spice Girls notebook I painstakingly put together in fourth grade; and, of course, the books. Oh, so many books.

I grew up in New York City. I lived in a house (with a basement!) in Staten Island for a few of my early years, but for most of my life I have resided in two bedroom apartments in Manhattan. Anyone who lives in New York knows how little space there is for... well, everything. There's no room on the subway, no room on the sidewalk, and, for many of us, no room in our homes. Or, at least, no storage room. We carry a lot of stuff with us in our lives. Notebooks and letters, dolls and toys, clothes, photos, books... most sentimental, all recalling a specific year, a specific day, a specific moment in our past.

Of course, we can talk for ages about the issues with nostalgia, the benefits of minimalism. But choosing to give away your things and being forced to are entirely different. And I've never lived any other way. When you got too old for a toy, you donated it. When you'd filled every page of a notebook, you tossed it. When you finished reading a book for the tenth time, or you'd moved up a reading level, it went to the library or to a neighbor, or on the curb.

As a voracious reader, I read series upon series of books growing up: Ramona Quimby, Encyclopedia Brown and The Baby-Sitters Club, which alone was comprised of hundreds of books in multiple spin-off series. I even read every single one of these (now questionable) books about Barbie and her tween-age friends called Generation Girl. As a teen I read all of the Georgia Nicholson books, the Princess Diaries books and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books... everything was a series, and every series was at least four books long. I haven't even reached 30 years of age and I have already owned hundreds and hundreds of books. But I have kept almost none of them.

Admittedly, this didn't start to be a real problem for me until I got older. That's the thing about nostalgia: sometimes it doesn't hit you until it's too late. All of the '90s throwback posts started coming out full-force with the media's millennial obsession and suddenly everyone was taking photos of their old stuff: Hey Arnold! t-shirts, *NSYNC posters, and boxes upon boxes of beloved old books.

These feelings were exacerbated when I became a children's bookseller. There I was, surrounded by these books I had loved so much as a kid and as a teen. Books I was now talking about every single day to co-workers and customers, reliving how special the stories and the characters were to my life. I wanted nothing more than to dive back into these worlds, to capture the nostalgia I was feeling and recapture everything that made them so great. But I didn't own any of them anymore. My beloved books had long been gone, sent on to better homes, to thrift stores and consignment shops. But I had started to miss them.

My book owner FOMO hit a fever pitch when I started watching book tube. It seemed like everyone had walls and walls of built in bookshelves piled high with books old and new alike. It felt like I was missing out on a huge part of being a book-lover. Not only had all of my old books been given away, I could only buy new books very sparingly, as well. The Belle's Library dream was never going to be a reality for me; the rolling ladders and ceiling-high shelves would always be a far off fantasy. And I'd started to worry that not owning a lot of books meant that I didn't value them as much as I should, as much as I thought I did, always having strongly identified as a reader.

After all, was Rory Gilmore really Rory Gilmore without constantly needing new bookshelves to fill? Would Kathleen Kelly be as bookish if she wasn't surrounded by her childhood favorites every day? What about Hermione Granger, Matilda, even Lisa Simpson? All of these bookish characters are known their worthy book collections.

Over time (maybe age is good for something other than nostalgia after all) I've come to realize that the physical love of a book does not equate to loving the books themselves. After all, what is a book but cardboard and paper and printed ink? It's the act of reading itself that makes you part of the book community, the act of immersing yourselves in these worlds, and falling in love with these characters that makes them a vital part of your life.

Because as much as I'll always remember the excitement of trading photos of Baby Spice with friends to fill my notebook, and the joy I felt when my grandmother bought me that Pink Power Ranger card, is the way I will always remember the way the stories I've read have affected me. Claudia Kishi made me want to be creative; Mia Thermopolis made me want to be a writer; Hermione Granger made me want to be bold and brave and smart. I don't need to hold those books in my hands to know that. And I carry a piece of those books with me everywhere, because, as cheesy as it sounds, they've made me who I am.

So, to everyone out there like me, with only one small bookshelf they painstakingly curate to hold only their very favorite books of right now, their signed editions, their couple of repurchased childhood favorites...keep reading! Go to the library, get a dreaded e-reader, beg, borrow and steal (okay, maybe don't steal) from your friends who have been gifted with more space. Do whatever you have to do to keep inviting book into your life, even if they won't be moving into your home any time soon.