Bookworm skinned by kin and Kindle


Green bookworm on open blank bookIn pre-Kindle days book-lovers, perhaps fearing the fate of the bibliophile who was crushed to death by his own collapsing bookshelves, nerved themselves, very occasionally, to the torture of a cull. Torture, yes, for getting rid of books, as a dear friend remarks, is similar to peeling off a layer of skin.

I remember my parents once deciding that Something Had to be Done about their fairly unmanageable and catholic collection of books. My father nobly volunteered, and sorted through about a thousand volumes, from which number he selected six he thought he could part with: just. Then my mother happened along, and exclaimed, 'Good Heavens, Bill, we can't throw out these three!'

I have recently had to Do Something about a book cull; what agony it has been. And all the while wise words haunted me. A life ruined by literature: Anita Brookner. People tell me that life is the thing, but I prefer reading: Logan Pearsall Smith. A book is like a garden in your pocket: Chinese proverb.

When I, a Melburnian, knew that I was going to spend six months in Greece on a holiday that subsequently got well out of hand, as decades later I am still here, I arranged for a trunk of books to be sent over: I knew there were no libraries where I was going, and that there were would be very few English books available. My illiterate mother-in-law was stupefied, but rallied quickly. 'So many books,' she said. 'Can't you sell some of them?'

I did not answer, but should have known she would react like this, as during her one visit to Melbourne she had told me roundly that too much thiavasma, reading, was undoubtedly the cause of my prematurely grey hair and my need to wear glasses.

Although many of my ancestors were also illiterate, once others got to Australia and acquired some education, there was no stopping them: they had caught the reading bug and never became interested in finding an antidote. Dickens was a particular favourite, and legend has it that my mother's maternal grandfather Robert used to read the current volume aloud to his wife Fan in bed at night. She, poor woman, had eight children, and was understandably drooping with fatigue at the end of each day. Robert didn't care: the reading was the thing.

'You're not listening, Fan,' he is supposed to have said fairly regularly.

'Yes I am, Robert.'

'Well then, what was the last word?'

My maternal grandmother, Robert's daughter, had her own strong opinions, and declared Dickens' Barnaby Rudge to be a dreadful book. She much preferred reading her Schofield Reference Bible, so much so that it often travelled on the top layer of her shopping basket. She certainly read a chunk of Holy Writ every day. I, too, have a similar Bible. I cannot claim to read a chunk every day, but there The Good Book sits on my shelf, alongside the Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary that belonged to my other grandmother.

These are volumes I will never part with. The longer you have a book, the harder it is to separate from it. It doesn't matter whether it is falling apart, or how badly foxed it is, or how badly the acid-based paper is faring: such a book is of your life. Other volumes I will never throw out are my copies of the old Victorian Second and Fifth Grade Readers, for every so often I have to remember the Hobyahs skip, skip, skipping on the ends of their toes, and re-read Frank Hudson's Pioneers. 'We are the Old-world people/ Ours were the hearts to dare.' 

I estimate I've now disposed of about 300 books in one way or another, and I don't feel the better or the lighter for it. Instead I feel a sense of loss: part of the epidermis has gone. However, I've learned one thing. Although none of us knows where we're going, I will recognise Hell when I see it: I'll be throwing out books for all eternity. If I should be so lucky as to make it to Heaven, I'll know it, too: at least part of it will be an endless library. With not a Kindle in sight.

Gillian Bouras headshotGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website.

Bookworm image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Kindle, ebooks



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Existing comments

Ah, another bibliophile. I salute you Gillian! My husband offered to buy me a Kindle for a significant birthday not so long ago and I blanched - what an audacity. He never spoke of it again. I cannot cull, I can only dust. Fortunately, as children have left home I've more bookcases available. Heavenly article, thanks.
Pam | 16 July 2013

I am married to a wonderful man who has an enormous book collection. As we are rapidly running out of space in our downsized apartment he finds throwing out any book, indeed, any piece of paper, very difficult. Recently a full paint of the apartment has required some culling....the first books to go were all mine that he offered to dispose of!
Rosalie Jones | 17 July 2013

A funny, loving piece. I bellowed at your father deaccessioning just six books and your mother saving three of them. I live with and for books but I also love my Kindle and welcome it to travel with and thus no longer have to lug so many books around the world. Then again.... Thanks.
Peter Goers | 17 July 2013

I too feel heaven must have a library I now have a kindle as books are too heavy to move from place to place .besides i can have more books on the go. love reading
Irena mangone | 17 July 2013

Simply wonderful!
RFI Smith | 17 July 2013

Thank you for publishing it. Book lovers unite. Understand every word relates to my son and myself.
Noelene | 17 July 2013

Thank you, Gillian. I love your books, and always look for your writing on Eureka Street. This piece heartens all bibliophiles with lifetime collections, wary of the barbarians at the gates. Please keep writing. Your words prop up the true believers.
Eleanor Massey | 17 July 2013

Thanks Gillian A delightful read!
Kevin Mark | 17 July 2013

I can hear the heartfelt sigh of recognition resounding through the ranks of the ancient order of bibliophiles and bibliomanes, of which I am one. We know we are not alone, but it is comforting to be reminded so eloquently of this! Your every word rings true for this bookworm and, I've no doubt, for others of our ilk! Many thanks for this delightful piece...
Jena Woodhouse | 17 July 2013

It is just so. How can you fondle a kindle? Can you leave your kindle on the bench with a slip of paper marking the page - alongside two or three or four other books similarly marked - waiting for the moment when the mood for that particular book strikes? When my grandkids come over we have to go to the local bookshop for a visit - they enjoy the experience of anticipating the reading and of feeling the books in their hands. They only want Readings gift vouchers for birthdays and Christmas. Collecting books is a lifetime activity. The grandkids love my library and my son is about to start covering another wall for me with bookshelves. I relate absolutely to the sentiments of your article.
Joe | 17 July 2013

I admit to being a bookaholic, with several on the go at any one time. However I differ from a lot of others in that I am only too happy to let them go on to find a new reader. Sometimes they come back to me several times. But as I have often said, I don’t want to get to be 80+ and be submerged in books. Send them on, donate them, but let them find a new reader, not dust.
Jenny Esots | 17 July 2013

Hello Gillian! Good to share a problem. I recently covered the billiard table and two groaning trestles in the shed so an amiable bookseller could come and take a van load away.I then got rid of the billiard table too (gone to the children for whom it was bought in the first place). But I don't seem to have gained any space. The remaining books have been quietly breeding I think. No hope? Lovely article. Thank you.
Morag Fraser | 17 July 2013

Thanks Gillian, I love your writing
Kath Taylor | 17 July 2013

Love books even when kindling (sorry could not resist). But, kindling is still not the same as the real timber.
Peter Horan | 17 July 2013

One thought that comes to mind when reading your article, Gillian, is the unforeseen relationship between books and bedrooms. In our last house move we went from three bedrooms to four, just to accommodate the books. It's a moot point on whether the books or the extra bedroom cost the most. When we moved we approached the removalist for book boxes so we could declutter the house for sale. We asked for 50. His smirk disappeared the next day when we turned up with 48 boxes of books and 14 six foot high bookshelf units to go into storage. When we settled into the new house, new city, new job, it was time for another new thing. The Kindle. I am the tech-head so it was mine until my wife fell in love with it. So that meant two. Then our voracious reader son visited and coaxed another one out of us. There is an end to it all, they say. I can't see it, myself.
Kim Miller | 18 July 2013

I am looking at a wall of bookcases filled with approx 2,000 books (the Aussie collection) while another 1,000 or more fill shelves in my study (the Japanese Room) - and more of other categories are in the sunroom. When I returned from Japan I donated some hundreds of volumes to the English language section of the city library! Recently I purchased an iPad Mini - and with the help of iTunes/even an Amazon account with a Kindle App. I am able to purchase and download - already dozens of volumes - and so easy to carry and read on public transport! One does not cancel out the other - I see them as a kind of fusion - the "hard-copy" and the "digital" complementary in my desire never to be out of reach of reading! Thanks Gillian. (I am remembering carrying books once to a friend in Greece!)
Jim KABLE | 19 July 2013

I confess to owning and using a light and easy to read in bed but I still manage to buy books and struggle to find room for them. But I wouldn't have it any other way. Large text on kindle and iPad is wonderful for tired old eyes however the smell and feel of print on paper cannot be equalled. Thanks G for another wonderful article.
Kerry | 19 July 2013

I agree entirely Gillian. My husband has bullied me to cull books and I still regret the loss of some of them. But I will never part with books by Elizabeth Goudge or O'Douglas, nor my several bibles. Thank you!
Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 19 July 2013

My wife was adamant against getting another bookcase. "You'll just get more books." I have managed to cull a number of books which are on a stool. On rare occasions a visitor takes one. When I was a child my father called me a 'reading fool.' It hurt, but maybe he was right.
David Fisher | 19 July 2013

As one who has suffer greatly from the scourge of the Kindle, I have found to no great surprise that is a very useful tool. In addition to it's reading benefit, it can save a lot of space. Therefore, it can avoid a lot of dust that some people are allergic to.
When my cousin wrote a book about his 10 years in the Salinas lettuce fields (called The Lettuce Wars) I wanted to read it, but not pay costly transportation and customs fees in Greece. So I simply downloaded it to my Kindle (named Emily). In one minute I had the book and was already reading it. It turned out to be a good read and I cherish it even though I have it in electronic form. Maybe we can embrace both the traditional and the new, each for what it adds to our life.
Rick Schulein | 21 July 2013

Oh, I feel for you having to cull from the pile of book life's lit. I'm looking at my culled pile and am grieving for the lost ones. Am I, as an artist far too sensitive? Oh grief as one ages is what we could have done, but life got in the way. Even so as a women the life force is so strong we will continue to achieve. What do you think?
Meg Davoren-Honey | 12 August 2013

Thanks, Gillian. Love your writing. Aphrodite and the Others is still temporarily out of stock at Amazon.
Daphne | 02 October 2013

Is the Kindle version of 'For the Love of My mother' by J P Rodgers available in Australia? If not, I' like to know why? It's on special discount in run up to Mother's Day. JPR
J P Rodgers | 11 March 2014


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