When you’re a book-lover like me, you can’t help but express your passion for all things literary, all the time. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m constantly recommending new novels, debating book-to-screen adaptations, sharing author news, or giving books away to anyone who will take them. When people come to my house, whether it’s for dinner, a game night, a cookout, or just a quick visit, no one leaves without a book — or a stack of them — in their arms. It’s a habit I picked up a few years ago, and it’s one that has changed the way I think about reading.
For a lot of book-lovers and bibliophiles out there, the idea of lending, let alone giving, books away is like stepping straight into a newly discovered circle of hell. As readers, we get attached to our handsome hardcovers and priceless paperbacks, and there is nothing we enjoy more than watching our bookshelves get filled with read and unread titles alike. Because to us, books are so much more than ink, paper, and cloth. They are adventure and inspiration, mystery and romance, empowerment and empathy. They are our tickets out of this world, and into another one entirely.
But as much as we bibliophiles hate lending, giving, losing, or damaging books from our own personal libraries, we equally love spreading our passion for reading. The best way to do that? Giving great books to good people.
I have always been fond of collecting books, and when I left home for college, I brought more boxes of books with me than I did clothes, refusing to leave a single one behind for my family to take, or worse, get rid of. Over the years, and through the course of eight semesters as an English major, those boxes multiplied even more and eventually became the bulk of possessions that followed me when I moved to New York and began a career in publishing. I moved into my tiny city apartment with a bed, a suitcase full of what professional clothes I had, and more than three bookshelves worth of worn paperbacks, unread hardcovers, and even some picture books from childhood. It was, in my mind, the foundation to the epic library I would someday build in whatever kick ass apartment I landed after publishing my first of many successful novels. (Hey, a naive millennial can dream, right?)
But after working in publishing for just a few weeks, I realized my new career was to my bookshelf what food and water was to Gremlins after midnight. Suddenly, and without warning, my collection multiplied to dangerous levels. Between the books I got from my employer to the ones I got as industry perks, I quickly and without warning not only had too many books for my shelves, I had too many books for my coffee and bedside table, for my closet shelves and my living room floor.
Since watching the iconic scene in Beauty and the Beast, I had always dreamed about having an epic library, but the reality of my space turned that dream into an overwhelming, disorganized, stress-inducing nightmare. My books, at least some of them, had to go. But where?
Like most people who have too much of one thing, I decided to go through my personal library and weed out the books I didn’t think I needed anymore, or books I didn’t like. I lived in New York, after all, and I knew there were dozens of non profit literary organizations who could use two of my three copies of Little Women or my still unopened collection of Dr. Seuss classics. But even after packing up boxes of books to donate, I still had way more than I could ever read (let alone fit in my tiny home) in a lifetime.
That’s when I started giving books to anyone who came over my house.
It started when I had a friend come by for a drink after work. We were chatting on the couch about one thing or another, when something in the conversation made me think of a book I had sitting on my nightstand. I immediately leapt up and grabbed it to show her, and after seeing her interest, insisted that she take it home, read it, and not give it back. She was delighted. A week later, after she finished the book, she said it was the best thing she had read all year, and she wondered if I had any other recommendations for her.
She had no idea what she was getting herself into, asking a book hoarder for more books, but I immediately recognized the new opportunity at hand. Soon enough, gifting books was a tradition I stuck to — and guests began expecting — whenever someone stopped by my house.
Flash forward to a few years later and a new career as a books writer and reviewer, and I still have more books than I know what to do with. Every day, the mail brings review copies of upcoming titles, paperbacks of last year’s best books, and just about everything in between. But now, I have a way of keeping the stock under control, at least a little bit, because I don’t let anyone — not my visiting family members, friends, colleagues, or acquaintances — leave my house without at least one new title in their hands.
Sometimes when I’m reading a new book, I know who I want to give it to by the end of the first chapter. Something about the character reminds me of a friend who can relate, or the plot is relevant to a discussion I had with one of my sisters, and I just know they’ll appreciate it. Other times, it works in reverse, and a conversation at game night sends me running down the hall to my office to grab a book that would be just perfect for my visitor. No matter how it happens, sharing books has become something I not only do for work online, but something I do for fun in person. For fun, and, I’m learning, for inspiration.
There are the books I love so much, I keep multiple copies on hand to give out like candy on Halloween. I can’t tell you how many people have left my house with We Should All Be Feminists and Hope In the Dark in their hands. There are the novels that I love and want to give away, but can’t part with myself, so I buy a second copy to stow away until the right person comes over for dinner. And then there are the books on my shelves that deserve a better home, one that will give them more attention. Usually titles I have already read, or have had for a year and still haven’t gotten around to, these books live on a browseable bookcase I tell people to please, please take something from. Because no matter how much I love my books, I think I have come to love sharing them even more.
Giving someone a book is like giving someone a piece of your soul. You may not have written it, but in reading it and experiencing it, a book has become a part of you. Passing it onto someone else is, in a way, like passing on that piece of yourself, too. Whether it be your interests, your dreams, your fears, your opinions, or your inspirations, you are giving someone so much more than paper and ink when you give them a book.
Books have the power to do so much. They can entertain and educate. They can empower and empathize. They can expand the mind, nurture the heart, and grow the imagination. They can take people out of their own experiences, and give them an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes.
When you give someone a book, it is the closest you can get to giving someone the world — or at least, a world. And luckily for me, I still have so many worlds left to give.