There are books I read and learn from and give away. There are books I’m unlikely to ever read again, but I can’t quite give them away. (What if I forget them?) So they collect dust and remind me that I once loved them.
I spend too much money on books, used and new. I sometimes resolve to spend less, but it never lasts. I borrow books from the library to keep my collection to a reasonable number, but there’s something about the privilege of owning a book.
When I volunteered at the book fair at my daughter’s school, the students were brought in with their homeroom classes throughout the day. Kids who brought cash were allowed to shop, and kids who did not bring money were given paper and pencil to create a wish list. With or without cash, they were pretty serious about it.
I noticed some kids gathered around the novelty items—pencils and erasers and bookmarks. One little girl had three dollars and some change, but most of the books were priced much higher. I was eavesdropping when a classmate informed her she might have enough to buy an eraser but not a book. Moments later the little girl stood alone, her eyes welling up with tears.
As I bent down to talk to her, big tears ran down her cheeks. She didn’t want a neon eraser; she wanted a book. I was determined she would have a book.
I checked my pockets for cash, knowing I rarely have cash, then scanned the shelves for a book around three dollars. Her first choice was Barbie, of course, but Barbie books were out of our price range. We eventually found a Dora book at the right price, which I suspected was a bit babyish for her. No matter: she got to buy a book and seemed satisfied.
I don’t know what this meant to her. She may have shelves of Barbie books at home, or maybe she has only one Dora book to call her own.
I know what it meant to me. When a little girl wants a book so badly that hot tears well up in her eyes, you do your best to put a book in her hands. A love of reading starts with the desire to read. A love of reading is a foundation for life-long learning, and owning books—while not necessary—is an emblem of taking ownership of what you’ve read, what you now know.
Maybe that’s the reason I have such a hard time downsizing or switching to e-books. I hope in the years to come my daughter will snag a book from my shelves, read it, write her own name on the flyleaf. You know: make it her own.