Guys, after probably a century of me complaining about how I never seem to have a place to put my books, my parents have surprised me with three IKEA Billy bookshelves over the last weekend. I was pretty speechless to see them be put up in my room, taking up an entire wall, and I went on a rearranging spree that lasted a week. Yup.
An entire. Freaking. Week.
First there’s the fact I am so overly OCD when it comes to my books that I refused to put them on the new shelves without properly sanitizing and cleaning them, then I had to check for uneven parts or wood splinters so that my books wouldn’t suffer the terrible fate of ripped paper, and then of course I had to decide in which way to arrange them. First I did the whole A to Z thing and became frustrated with it because my favourites ended up at the bottom, then I went for the favourites on top, the rest at the bottom thing, and damn, that didn’t work because I couldn’t seem to properly fit the books into the shelves. Then I tried the whole genre order and that didn’t work out at all, well, because some books aren’t meant to be categorized like that. And that’s when I had an existential crisis over what to do without hurting my books so much.
And then I realized something.
I needed help. I seriously needed help.
Or maybe I just realized why I lost myself in books so excessively in the past year. Or why books mean so much to me in general.
The thing is, my books aren’t just books to me, they’ve been my dearest friends in this past year and as long as I can remember, keeping me company, helping me grieve and cry, making me laugh, just generally being my life line during difficult times, and I realized that I had started to not even touch them out of fear I was ruining a cover here or there. And that’s ridiculous. The things you love, you’re afraid to hurt, but damn, my books are my life, and they need to be reassured that I love them (sort of, I’m being metaphorically here, I’m not THAT crazy… maybe). And it’s bullshit to coddle them because they’re not only made to be looked at but to be held and flicked through, and it’s something I hadn’t done in a long time. I had stopped enjoying books the way I used to because of something as superficial as the packaging. I tried to keep my books in this pristine other place where I also wanted to keep myself safe in, and I realized that I didn’t want that escape anymore, I wanted to start roughing them up a bit, even if it only meant putting them out of their comfort zone and having a crease or a tear here and there or having them randomly rearranged on new shelves. The funny thing is, when my friends tell me they’re “just books”, they don’t always realize how right and wrong they are at the same time. Because the packaging, sure, that can be “just”, but the words and what they give you simply never can’t. And what I realized was that my books will always reflect the emotional state I am in, which makes them a whole lot more valuable to others as well. My mum quickly realized I was having a hard time dealing with my grief when I started being so compulsive when it came to my physical copies, only I didn’t realize for myself until those bookshelves started to make me panic over rearrangement only and I actually had a crying fit over it.
So upon that realization, I put them in a random order, and saw that it was the best decision I could’ve made, because the entire bookshelf now looks like me. It’s the one thing where when I look at it, I see myself in it. It’s a little messy, it’s a little OCD when it comes to some hardcovers, but it’s me. And it lets my books and myself breathe, somehow. There’s nothing worse than putting restrictions on the things you love, or the people you love, so I’ve made the decision to stop with it altogether, and just enjoy my physical copies again. Because, frankly, I hadn’t for a long time, and I felt stupid for it. I was so anxious to ruin the covers or the binding that I would only ever read in bed, after I washed my hands, and wouldn’t even eat or drink near any of the books in fear of staining them. My sister never cared about the covers or how they looked, she always only cared about the words, and I want to get back to that. I need to find a balance that will still have me wash my hands, but not lose it over the fact there’s a tiny bump in this or that cover, or there’s a little crease in this or that. I might even start eating while reading again.
I think what started it was the fact that I never had to care about any of my OCD behaviour when it came to eBooks, and the iPad was always like a stronghold around the words, and I realized that even though a lot of people seem to think that eBooks will be the death of physical copies, I don’t think so at all. My eReader has helped me come to terms with my sometimes incredibly stupid reading habits, and has made me appreciate real books even more because they are, among other things, beautiful to look at. As much as my sister didn’t care about coffee or chocolate stains, it’s also okay to do care to the extend where you still enjoy the books and not have them become a reason for anxiety. Books were made to be enjoyed, in all forms, and I won’t put so much pressure on myself and their up-keeping anymore. I will read both versions, and enjoy them both for different reasons. But no more clincical conditions when it comes to my books and my life. What my iPad has given me is the opportunity to find that balance in my reading habits again, because I can have my clean physical copies on the shelves as well as my eBook copies to read on the bus, but I can stop being too uptight over my books because, after all, they’re real and beautiful, and some battle scars can’t be avoided. Can’t with the reader, can’t with the books.
Now, this blog post has been a random assortment of thoughts I’ve had over the past couple of days, and while I think books are there to escape life, they should also inspire you to go out there and experience it, and now that they’ve given me escape for the longest time, they have now given me the encouragement to get out of my comfort zone more often, to let go of some of the anxiety and panic I’ve had over all sorts of things, and just be for a little while. And I don’t think anyone has ever given me that much shelter or freedom or choice in my life before, not even my parents or my best friends. There are no expectations with the stories we love, and I put expectations on them the minute I started OCDing when it came to my library, which, looking back, feels wrong. When some of my friends tell me they’re “just books”, I always tell them they’re really therapy. They understand me, they make me feel, they inspire me. And they also help me see things from a new perspective, and help me move on. And I hadn’t really realized that for a long time.
On a final note, I feel even closer to my little library now than I did before, even though it’s not perfect. And as crazy as this entire post sounds and as little sense as it might make to you, it was pretty cathartic and freeing to write.