A few years ago I realized something strange and was just recently reminded of it (thanks, K). My parents don't really own any books. Neither does my sister (and brother in-law). I guess I was just used to that growing up. But it's odd.

(That's not entirely true, my Dad buys a lot of computer books that he never reads. And my Mom has a small collection of cooking books. But that hardly counts.)

Personally, I have too many books. I have two full-height book cases that are full. I also have 3 half-height cases that are full. And I've vowed not to buy more (cases, not books!). Instead I go thru and get rid of old books that I don't plan to read again. The local library likes that.

Most (but not all) people I know seem to have a decent collection of books too. I know that Amazon.com 1-click isn't completely to blame, 'cause I've always this problem... I'd go to a book store and walk out with at least 4 books. Every time. And when we visited Powell's in Portland during OSCON, I think I walked out with something like 9 books.

And my Amazon Wishlist has 4 pages worth of items on it. There are 88 in total right now. Granted, a few are DVDs, but most are books.

So many books, so little time!

You know, I remember going to my friend Greg's house when I was growing up. They also didn't have [m]any books.

I'm not sure what to make of this.

Is this common? What's your experience?

Posted by jzawodn at September 01, 2003 11:08 PM

Reader Comments
# Fred said:

I guess it's fairly common. Some people (that I know) think that books are for people with lots of free time, and others think they are for the people with lots of brains. I have damn many books but my father and mother don't own a single book. My brother and my sister in law also don't have any books, although they sometimes borrow a book or two from me. Infact many people I know keep borrowing books from me after they hear about them from me and return them 2 months later without reading (they find that the book was not as interesting as I made it sound).

on September 2, 2003 12:22 AM
# Bill Brown said:

Books are amazing and something to be treasured. My family too has few books and none of my friends growing up had any significant number of books. However, I have always collected and amassed books. I'm currently in the process of cataloging them so that I can know exactly how many I have and stop buying duplicates. I'm currently at 501 books with one 8' tall and two 6' tall bookcases left (and I'm not counting the children's books my wife has amassed).

I buy books constantly. I just bought five on Friday and went pretty crazy when I was at Powell's, spending about $100 on ten books.

I also read constantly. I've currently got maybe ten books in different stages of active reading and maybe another dozen that I could pick up right now to start reading again.

It amazes me when I find out people aren't readers. There's so much knowledge out there; how can you stifle your mind by not sucking down information? Sometimes I feel like Johnny 5 from that insipid 80s movie: need input!

I don't think it's possible to have too many books. I have lots of books that I've never read, but kept because I never know when I'll need them as a reference. There have been many instances where they've proven valuable. At times, I also like to just randomly pull a tome off the shelf and thumb through it.

on September 2, 2003 12:59 AM
# Opium said:

You might want to try BookCrossing.com.
The concept is quite cool. Once you do not need a certain book any longer, you place a special label on it that contains an explanation, the URL and a unique id and release it 'in the wild'. People who get the book and enter the site, type in the id and the location in which they found it + comments. That way you know where your book went to. It's fun.

on September 2, 2003 01:50 AM
# Jim Dabell said:

Virtually nobody I know reads books unless they have to for work or something. It's quite bizarre that people can go for years without reading anything, I think.

(Oh, and as a data point, I have over 600 items in my wishlist, but I use it as a substitute for my browser's bookmarks, I'm not planning on buying _all_ of them.)

on September 2, 2003 02:52 AM
# jake said:

We had quite a few books growing up in my home. Living in NYC though gave us access to the excellent public library system, so we read much, much more than our limited (book) budget would otherwise suggest.

on September 2, 2003 04:51 AM
# Courtney said:

I have so many books that I've just given up on keeping them all in the house. I box them up and put them in the shed, promising myself that when I get a library, I'll put them all back. My parents had relatively few books, but that was due more to a limited budget than anything else - and we made *excellent* use of the library system. The other interesting thing that I find is the difference between fiction and non. I refuse to buy myself fiction most of the time, because I read it too fast and don't want to reread it - it gets to be an expensive habit. But non-fiction, or reference - well, then, those I can use for years, right? :) So I have many, many different kinds of non-fiction books.

But I know many people who just simply don't like to read, and that I can't quite understand.

on September 2, 2003 05:21 AM
# Mark Mascolino said:

Wow 600 hundred items. I'm only at 108. As for books growing up, we didn't have a lot but my parents did take me to the library a lot and my grandmother bought me kid-oriented magazines, so I think that is what fostered my love of reading. Oddly enough, my sister (3 yrs younger) hardly reads at all.

Now for an experience that parallels yours: My parents listened to very little music while we were growing up...not in the house or the car. It wasn't until I was into college and beyond that I started to really listen to music. But thanks to Gnutella and their assorted ilk, I was able to find an astonishingly wide range of music types that I can enjoy. It has been my experience that a lot of people who grew up listening to and liking one style of music have a harder time apreciating some of the newer and (frankly more odd) forms of music.

on September 2, 2003 07:04 AM
# Dan Isaacs said:

We had a lot of books. Not hundreds. But we had Encyclopedias and a lot of childrens books and science books (my Dad's old textbooks, mostly). But most of what I read pre-JH was what was around the house. Which meant by the time I had a formal need for an encyclopedia, I could find things REALLY fast. And that I was also pretty good @ trivia before any child should be.

Now, I have a lot of comic books. Collections of strips (Doonesbury, Calvin, Bloom County) a ton of science texts (hanging out at the book store and offering $5 for the $90 book the bookstore would only pay $3 for was a good way to get those) a few dozen technical books, and a handful of non-technical works. The comic books and the few copies of the Bible I have are the only fiction.

I don't even read them that much. But it's comforting to see them. To know they are there. Of course I have no good reason to keep 7 Calculus books within arms-lenght of my desk. But the sentimental value keeps them around.

I have several boxes full of books in the garage. Mostly things I'll never even need again. But I can't bring myself to get rid of them. Maybe I should.

on September 2, 2003 07:29 AM
# Bill Brown said:

Just came across this link to an article about other people's books.

on September 2, 2003 08:27 AM
# Charles said:

The easiest way to get the measure of a man is to check out their bookshelves and see what books they own. But when I moved to California, one of my first observations was that nobody had any books. I was astonished. The closest I ever came to finding someone with a book collection was someone with a shelf stocked with People Magazine and Batman comics. People who came to my house and saw my library thought I was a freak.

"People never read. But if they do read, they don't understand. And if they do understand, they forget."
-Stanislav Lem

on September 2, 2003 08:31 AM
# wil said:

Every single book I own is factual. That is, a manual, computer guide, media books or books relating to subjects I work with or have stuided at some time.

My mother on the other hand has thousands of books accumulated over the years. Novels, manuals, books, literature, study material, everything. There is not one single room in the house without a bookshelf. Not even the bathroom and kitchen. All corridors are lined with bookshells running down the walls and all rooms have at least one wall covered. It's crazy but then again it was very cool. My mother's bookshelf was an infinite reference source that I still go back to today if I need any information on a paticular topic, especially good background reading.

on September 2, 2003 08:46 AM
# jim winstead said:

i have a very large collection of books. i just keep it at the public library.

my parents never had a large library. but i read an enormous amount of books when i was young, thanks to regular trips to the public library.

not going to the library regularly really put the brakes on my reading after college, but i have picked the habit back up again, and am loving it.

on September 2, 2003 09:25 AM
# dws said:

I wasn't exposed to a book-free home until college, while visiting the family friends of a dorm-mate. There was something just a bit off about their otherwise very nice home, but it took a few minutes to figure out what. No books. No magazines. It felt very wrong, particularly since the guy was a retired electrical engineer with several patents.

We live in barely controlled chaos, even with a good library and used bookstore nearby. (The used bookstore takes technical books, which helps keep the herd culled.)

on September 2, 2003 09:38 AM
# Nav said:

I too have this insatiable need to buy/read books. Not sure if the biblio gene skips a generation, reading the posts here and going by my experience -my parents own none, grandparents are reletively avid readers- maybe it is so...

on September 2, 2003 10:27 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


That could be. Now that I think about it, my grandmother is quite an avid reader.


on September 2, 2003 10:46 AM
# Courtney said:

One of my cherished summer rituals was visiting my grandmother's house. She had very few books in her home, but at least once a week, the whole household would go to the library and pick out 10 or 12 books to read. Could be where I got that reading habit..:)

on September 2, 2003 12:43 PM
# Marc said:

Actually collecting books is not common at all among the general population (nor is reading). However, I am always surprised at how few people employed in IT use books, much less read any or otherwise keep up with the technical literature! I think that this usually comes as a surprise to those of us who couldn't think of not having lots of books around to read/peruse/enjoy. There aren't many investments for learning that are as cost-effective as a good book. One of my benchmarks in estimating the competence of IT department staff is to look for the number and types of books (or even technical magazines/papers), if any(!), in the cubicles. Having IT co-workers come by my own office and ask why I have so many technical books around is a pretty good indicator of general mediocrity at best. Asking someone to list some of their favorite technical books and explain why is a great job interview questions :-)

on September 2, 2003 02:00 PM
# Alex said:

You know you're a book-a-holic when you sign up as an Amazon affiliate for the discount...

on September 2, 2003 03:50 PM
# Chris said:

Well...I know I love books. They got me through some of the best and the worst times and I know I've picked up far more from them than most of my friends ever got from TV or even computers. Indeed, the reason I got into computers so much was because of the books. Instant access to information? Its possible...internet here I come!

When I moved to college my freshmen year my parents made me get rid of all my books but what would fit in four plastic toates(sp?). In the end, I got rid of over 250 books. I was 18. My parents, between the two of them, have over 800 books in my house. Yea, I was raised in the right family. haha

on September 2, 2003 08:08 PM
# anand said:

Yup. I know what you mean.

There was a point in my life when I used to read a book a day. That was the time when I had just discovered Zen and read almost everything I could about it and other "similar" idealogies like Tao, Tantra and of course, Budhism.

To this day, nothing beats the thrill of reading a good book for me.

on September 2, 2003 10:31 PM
# Peter J. Schoenster said:

Books. My kids live in Brazil and their Brazilian family has 0 books even though their grandmother worked as a teacher and their mother graduated to be a teacher. So I motivated them by paying X dollars for each book they would read. It has worked. Now they ask for books and I only have to pay for the books; I don't have to bribe them. They swallow books. Personally, I've always bought them. I have at least 4 book cases. I once had a little bookstore and it was always a great pleasure doing business with people who appreciated books. The only after-life I believe in are in books.

on September 5, 2003 01:27 PM
# Anthony said:

I have memories when I was a kid of my dad joking as he spent his last $20 of cash on some new books. When we moved there were about 160 boxes of them(~10,000). He recently moved again - he told me that he now has more than twice that. Books covered every wall of our house in Toronto.

I swore I would never be as burdened with books as he is/was. Borrow from a library and return when done or purchase and donate after I'm done.

Recently I have found myself falling into my fathers footsteps. Partially I think the web is to blame - it is much easier to find out about excellent books. Partially it is because I am too busy to finish any books I get from the library. Partially it is because I write them off as a business expense. I still try to purge books I haven't looked at in over a year every once in a while.

Here are some lists: Amazon listmania

on September 10, 2003 06:20 AM
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