Net worth—a strange concept for human beings—is calculated on the basis of how much cash you’re “worth.” While on that lonely task of sorting through the attic, I came across many boxes of books for which we didn’t have room in our apartment. Our guests, who’ve been few, feel obligated to comment on how many books we have, as if it’s an infirmity to be delicately broached. Or for which something might be prescribed. I grew up believing that what we call “net worth” should be assessed in how much a person knows. Knowledge, not money, in my fantasy moments, would drive the world forward. Books are cheap (generally, but you don’t want to know what I’ve paid for some of these volumes when I really needed them!) and don’t retain resale value, except perhaps in the textbook market. They’re considered a throwaway commodity.
Although I didn’t read it, a recent bestseller claimed you could find happiness by removing clutter, and high on the priority list of things to ditch was books. Will you ever read that again? For me the question is rather, will I ever need to look something up in there again? Surprisingly often the answer is yes. Considering the fact that books are knowledge, they’re a remarkably good bargain for the price. Regardless of clutter. Perhaps that’s a kind of wisdom itself. Books are heavy, though, especially in any numbers. Weight means something. What they contain has the potential of being priceless, even though it’s available to anyone else with a copy.
I used to watch Antiques Roadshow, back in the days when you could still get television reception with just an antenna. You always felt bad for the poor hopeful who’d brought an old book, dreaming of riches. Apart from handwritten manuscripts, books are mass produced, almost by definition. The printing press, after all, was designed to produce multiple copies. Sure, if you go back far enough, or you have a tome rare enough, you might get a nice price for it. Everyone I saw on the Roadshow left with their disappointment worn obviously on their faces. You’re better off buying a vase. That’s only if your bottom line is your net worth, though. If you want to strive for what’s really important in life, I’d go for the book almost every time. Of course, while up there moving those boxes around I began to wonder about the net worth of a good back brace as well.