I can't say I wasn't warned.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a columnist for the Guardian who suggested that people who own lots of books are smug and middle-class. She is giving her books away.
Reader Joseph W. Smith III of Montoursville, Pa., responded to me right away. "You're gonna get a pile of mail about your recent column," he wrote. "We book-buyers are an opinionated lot."
He was right. We are, and I did.
Most of you didn't bother taking the columnist to task for her opinion — instead, you wrote to tell me why you love your books and why you keep them.
Well, OK, Vivian Ramalingam of Roseville had a swift, tart comment about the columnist ("The person who made that claim is an idiot"), but then she went on. "I own a first edition of a chrestomathy of the works of Cicero, which I bought for a few dollars off the back of a station wagon containing the library of a decommissioned monastery. I am a musicologist, and my MO is to place works of music in their most general contexts, sometimes using the smallest details. People come to my home and remark about my 'large library,' but all I see is miles of individual, wonderful words."
Many others also keep books for reference, including Anne Habermehl of Cortland, N.Y. "As a scholar, I buy books that I want to keep for reference. Apparently [the Guardian columnist] buys books for a light afternoon read."
Robert P. Krebs of Pascagoula, Miss., keeps books so that he can reread them: "As we age we reread them for new lessons, for the books have not changed: we have."
To many readers, books represent more than text; they are reminders of the past. Janie Best of Matthews, N.C., wrote, "I still own a book given to me by my first-grade classmates when I was hospitalized with pneumonia, and the bedtime story book given to me by my grandparents."
Says Ken Campbell of Citrus Heights, Calif.: "Perhaps the case for a home library is much like the argument for photo albums: Less for the doing than for the memory of having done." (I like that idea a lot.)
Some people keep books because they grew up without any, such as Todd McAdam of Cortland, N.Y., who writes, "I grew up in a situation where I did not have great access to books. So I reread them, and reread them, and reread them. My personal library was invaluable when the pandemic shut down libraries across America. And it's invaluable anytime I just want a comforting, familiar read."
And when folks do give away books — as we all do — it's not done lightly.
"I see the books on my shelves much in the same way I see old photographs, a prompt to memory and storytelling," wrote Pia Lopez of Avon, Minn. "I am loath to jettison books. When I do, rarely, it's like losing a friend and I try to recall its role in my life and how it changed me. 'Farewell, friend,' I say. 'May you do for another as you have done for me.' "
Says Ed Biren of Eagan: "Nothing wrong with surrounding ourselves with books we love and continually adding to our circle of favorite authors."
Or, to put it another way, Dick VanWagner of Eden Prairie says: "Books are our friends, my friends."
It might be as simple as that.
Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org