Sandstone Press

Making Space: The Book Purge

The Book Purge

by Sarah Tierney

Erik, one of the central characters in Making Space, is a book hoarder. And although I have never owned as many books as he does, I used to have far more than was sensible for someone living in a small room in a shared house.

At that time, I was working as a book reviewer and my favourite part of the job was opening the post: those padded A5 envelopes containing the latest novels and a press release. Shiny new books, all for me. The longer I had this job, the more I accumulated. I was in my twenties and moved house a lot, but I lugged them all, and all the magazines containing my reviews, from one place to the next, for years.

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Boxes and boxes of them, up and down narrow stairways, cramming them into any space I could find in one rented room after another.

I didn’t read the books more than once. In time, I didn’t even want them. And I definitely didn’t want to be carrying them around for the rest of my life. But still, I didn’t get rid of them. They were mine, but more than that, they were me. They were what I did and who I was.

Until, one day, they weren’t. That day I took all the magazines to the Council tip and almost all the books to a second-hand bookshop, where I swapped them for credit which I spent on greetings cards. (If there was one thing I didn’t need in my life right then, it was more books.)

So what brought about that change? That sudden ability to look at the hundreds of books and magazines and say: No more. Be gone. Stop following me around every place I go.

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It came with the end of a relationship which had also gone on too long. It had dominated my life for years, wearing me out emotionally, playing havoc with friendships and work, eventually leading me to move back in with my mum while I found somewhere to live.

‘You’ll leave when you leave,’ a friend had said to me when I was in that relationship, foreseeing that it was a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

I think you hold on to stuff until keeping it becomes harder than letting it go. And you don’t know when you’re going to reach that tipping point until it happens.

Leaving the relationship was hard but getting rid of the books and magazines wasn’t. Without even noticing it happen, I’d grown into a different person to the one who’d seen them as a part of who she was.

Now I can barely remember what books they were. I just know that they were heavy and burdensome and too much to keep carrying around.

I sometimes go into that shop and see books that used to be mine. I pick them up, put them down, then buy something else, usually just a postcard. Something small and light, and designed to be given away.


First published on My Reading Corner, 22nd May 2017