The Bottom Bookshelf

If you’ve had a long sit-down with me, you may know that I didn’t have a good experience with college. Most of it was spent being angry; neither appreciating the work I was doing nor pushing to do the work I cared about in the little spare time I had available to me. It’s a first-world problem, but it was my problem.

Anyway, one of the side effects of that time is that I was left with a stack of textbooks that I didn’t want to lose. I really do want to learn more calculus, physics, and philosophy, even though neither my music or business school studies left much time to pursue them beyond entry-level courses. There are economic questions I still don’t understand, but those books I saved may have more answers than my professors made it seem.

One of the things I took from college was that even if the courses weren’t very educational for me, the books were actually helpful. Or at least the content of the books. You see, the books don’t really get opened since I left school. At all. They seem to have reached their end on my bottom bookshelf.

The Bottom Bookshelf
The Bottom Bookshelf

This isn’t to say I’ve stopped learning. No, I’ve actually learned a whole lot of stuff in the last four years. But the books I’ve bought since tend to get read, thought about, and then sold to half-price book stores or given away to friends. The textbooks for some reason never met that fate.

I think I’m stuck feeling guilty that these are what I should’ve done for those many months in college. If I give these away or sell them, I’m missing out on the good part of that time in my life. Will I never learn calculus if I bring this to Goodwill?

The reality is, this information is out there in other places. And almost assuredly in electronic formats where I can store them, travel with them, and access them more easily in my daily life instead of wrangling a tome.

So what’s the problem?

We have too much stuff in our house. That’s the problem.

We’re slowly but surely getting rid of that stuff, but this is one of those barriers that’s totally my fault. To most folks, this shelf of books is not a problem at all. I very much respect those that keep books in such high esteem as to make habits of building libraries of their own keeping. Reading The Black Swan and learning about Umberto Eco’s library of books he’s not read made me feel like I was actually right to want this bottom shelf of mine. Or perhaps wrong for not building it up more.

But it’s just not me. I have no logical desires to keep these books. I have desires for a simpler home and a clearer set of priorities. Some of my possessions that I knowingly want or need don’t have a ‘home’ right now, and they deserve this shelf more than objects of past shame.

My plan

I’ve set a date. I’m going to glance through each book. Pick one thing from the book that I really want to learn about (or tried to learn and still don’t ‘get’) and stick the idea in Simplenote. In less than an hour, I should have a list of stuff I really want to learn about that would’ve been in those books, but I know I can find in plenty of places.

It’ll probably take me years to even whittle down those Simplenotes.

But I’ll get my shelf back, and maybe I can start to feel better about this whole learning business. Maybe someone else will enjoy these books as much as I found myself anxious about them.

By Alex

Web Developer and Fitness Coach in Louisville, KY

One reply on “The Bottom Bookshelf”

That’s a great idea. I sold or gave away most of my books when I moved abroad, and as hard as it was to part with old textbooks and books I never read, I’m glad I did. I found I had been dealing with mental clutter as a result of having those books around. And making a list of things you still want to learn is a good way to allow yourself to let go of the books themselves — I’ll remember that the next time I have trouble letting go. I also tell myself that if I ever really regret it, I can always go to a library to hunt them down. 🙂

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