Books, Fire, and Insurance

I was talking *hypothetically* with my mom the other day as we were driving, and I told her how the worst thing that I could imagine happening to me would be the house burning down with all my books inside it. A house fire is utterly horrifying to me. Even as a kid, I would shove my favorite stuffed animal in the safe when we went on vacation – just in case there was a fire. Now that I have all these books, the concept is even more terrifying.

She laughed, and said that there’s always insurance to cover the cost of replacing the books. I immediately told her she was about to be the subject of a blog post – I told you mom! (She gets my posts by email.)

She responded with another hypothetical, asking what I would choose if a crispy home could be exchanged for a fix up of all our current family issues: my books or resolution with said family members?

I picked my books. Am I a horrible person? I think not.

Here’s the skinny: family members can choose of their own accord whether they want to get their act together, no amount of sacrifice on my end needed. My books are innocent.

How could I replace all the memories associated with those books? My Harry Potter books – three of them the UK versions, purchased when I vacationed there. The sweat stains on the hardback copy of The Deathly Hallows as I gripped it so tightly the edges started to wrinkle. And my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring – I read that for the first time when I was about eight years old. I stayed up in the attic of the house we rented with another family in Hawaii, reading instead of swimming. The spine is bent in eight different places from how many times I’ve read it.

And what about all the dog-eared pages, stains, and markings? Thousands of them! Only two in the book? I must have read it in one or two sittings. A bunch of folds? I’ve either read it a dozen times, or I kept stopping because I couldn’t get into it. What if I’ve spilled something on it? Oh, there’s the tea spot from my midnight reading session while I tried to put myself to sleep. Whoops – I must have missed a bit of chocolate on my fingers after that brownie. My copy of Perks of Being a Wallflower – underlined quotes and post its everywhere to remind myself of the pure magic contained in those pages.

Perks Full Edited

Hopefully I’ve illustrated my point. Books aren’t just books. No amount of insurance money can replace them. Sure, you can get another copy. Perfect. Spine unbroken. Pages unwrinkled. A fresh start. But they don’t have that special something in them. Once you read a book, you put a bit of your soul into it. A book is no longer a book – it’s a horcrux. When you pick it up again, you can feel the thrum of life as you turn the pages. Having a bookshelf burn down would be like having a hundred children die all at once.

I’m not crazy – you know what I’m talking about! Here’s a current-life example: I lent a friend my copy of City of Bones a few weeks ago. She finished it in three days: I still don’t have it back. If I have to, I can always buy a new copy. But then I would feel dirty, like I’m cheating on my original. There’s no replacement for the one I bought. I can tell you the history of that book: where I bought it, what I bought it with, which job provided the money that I spent, how long it took me to read it, where I read it, what music I listened to while reading it – EVERYTHING. I can’t tell you that if I just order a new one off Amazon. It’ll sit there on my shelf, cold and unused and personality-less. Plus, it was the first book I read when I finally returned to consistently reading. I inhaled it and never looked back. It’s a milestone – irreplaceable.

In conclusion, if some horrible turn of events happened and the world just wanted to stick it to me and my house burnt up into little matchsticks, I would probably end up like the old lady in Fahrenheit 451.

Now here are my questions for you: Do you feel like your books are parts of you after reading them? And if you could only save one book off your shelf from a fire, which would it be?

24 thoughts on “Books, Fire, and Insurance

  1. I get it. I recently gave a visiting friend my copy of The Help, one of my all-time faves, to read on her flight home. I hurried out to buy a replacement copy, but it’s not the same.

  2. I get it to. The ceiling on my bedroom recently collapsed and looking through the rubble all I could think was ‘are my books ok???!’ (Some are a little water damaged but otherwise fine). I’d have to go with HP 1 as the first I’d save.

  3. A few months back,I bought a volume of 5 books which I kept on my desk and fondly looking after it. Later,after my sister’s kid accidently torn a couple pages,it was replaced and the old one given away but I haven’t had the heart to read it after.. I get it,copies are as important as the story itself!

  4. Oh I would pick my books too and believe me there are many family issues that need resolving in mine. You put it quite perfectly our books hold our memories, our touch even our scent. You can’t replace that. Great post!

  5. I’m not going to lie — I actually cried myself to sleep one night, thinking of my house going down in a fire. A big part of the reason why I was so sad was the fact that I’d lose all my precious books and stuffed animals. I mean, how could anything ever replace them? Sure, the insurance can pay for new ones, but those won’t be the same!
    You just made me scared again. Thanks.

  6. Just over two years ago – my house flooded. There was a giant storm and water came from everywhere. I lost 95% of my books. And I was devastated. It sucked. I too have memories associated with not only the story but the copies. Like my copy of HP1 – the first ever book that my older brother borrowed from me because he was convinced all the other books I read were too babyish 😛 Or my copy of Saving Francesca which was signed… 😦 I remember lining up and being so nervous to talk to my favourite author… but she was so lovely.

    It’s sad but I guess… it gave me the space to buy new books and make new bookish memories.

      • I think you would. And plus – even though my copy of HP is new and never been read, I still think of all the people I lent my old copy to when I see it. So in reality – nothing lost 🙂

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  9. This is something that terrifies me. I wish someone would come up with a fire-proof bookshelf. Something that would completely shut when it feels heat or detects smoke. Or a bookshelf that would transport itself inside a safe that’s installed in your wall. Yeah, I would spend my money on that.


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