Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is It Time to Bid Adieu to Some of Your Books?

photo by sleepyneko / Eunice, found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

A number of folks seem to be clearing off their bookshelves lately. If you want some inspiration to declutter your own bookshelves, their words might help.

Stuart Walton wrote an interesting piece entitled My book cull: a loss of shelf esteem. Here's a short excerpt from that:
What's the point of keeping most books once they've been read? They huddle together on the shelves and then, when shelf space runs out, they stand around in precarious columns on the floor, making fossil impressions on the carpet, doing nothing really more serious than bearing witness to what you've read in the past few decades. ...

There will always be books to which one wants to refer back again and again, but what of most of the novels, biographies of minor figures, the tidal wave of critical theory? The answer is: they can go. Having served their moment, they can be shown the door.
Walton was inspired by "moving house" - which often leads people to re-examine their book collections. Here's Michael Schaub writing on Bookslut about his recent move, and that of editor-in-chief Jessa Crispin:
Jessa and I both went through epic book purges fairly recently, when she moved to Berlin and I moved to Portland. I can't speak for her, but for me, it was emotionally painful for about five seconds. Then I realized how much it was going to cost to ship everything across the country, and it became much, much easier. I think I was actually gleefully threatening the books at one point. ("See you in hell, copy of Silas Marner that I'm never going to read! SEE YOU IN HELL!")
And this one's a bit older: About a year ago, Barbara Winter pointed me to The New York Times, which had asked some authors "what to cull and what to keep." Here are some of the points made by Francine Prose:
If a country, like Czechoslovakia, no longer exists, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to take the travel guide along with you when you go.

Ask yourself the following hard question and answer honestly: If I live to be 100, will I read this book again?
And I love the honesty and individuality in the answer provided by David Matthews, as he gets rid of what many would consider to be great literature. Here's just a part of his reply:
Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude makes the scrap heap, because it would take precisely that combination of circumstances before I could be bothered to finish it. Bye, bye Jamaica Kincaid — assigned 20 years ago by a comparative lit professor — you will always be homework to me.
Related Posts:
Clearing Out the Bookshelves
3 Perspectives: Not All Books Are Keepers
Books: Weeding the Collection
Weeding the Books: Our Tastes, They Are A-Changin
10 Ways to Find New Homes for Your Books

Related Newsletter:
Letting Go of (Some of) the Books


JustGail said...

Thanks for the links! It seems most of these are geared toward fiction/travel/college texts. Most of my books are sewing, needlework, cooking and gardening related, and yes I have way too many. Maybe. My thoughts vary day-to-day on that. I've already gotten rid of most of my college books and the fiction books with no regrets. I'll have to go study these links and figure out how to apply them to my collection.

Anonymous said...

This is the one thing that I can't seem to let go of is my old school books. Maybe if I knew they were going to a good home and were getting use. Rather then me moving them around from house to house and storage to storage!!!

Jill said...

Last weekend I weeded my collection. I bought an ebook reader (not one of the big 3) about a year ago and finally decided that if I'm going to read a print book again, it'll be if we lose power while I'm low on battery, or the book is not available digitally. (I still kept more than I donated).
I kept so many of my print books because I bought them and I always thought I should read them, or would read them. So during my purge, I made an ebook wishlist. The classics are free through Project Gutenberg and many of the others through the library.
Now only if I could go through my trinkets and gifts so easily.

Julie Bestry said...

Great post, Jeri. About nine years ago, I sold or donated all the books I thought I'd never read again. Thus, I now have only a tiny collection of fiction -- only my favorites that I do reread. (All the Jane Austen gets reread yearly; Lucy Maud Montgomery, every few years. Just one unread fiction book, Moby Dick, sits largely unread, mocking me.

As for non-fiction, most of it is practical and used to help prompt ideas for articles and blog posts (lots of organizing, financial management, tech and history). I had a great ratio of books-to-shelves until recently, when a very aged bookcase gave up the ghost, or at least the bottom shelf. So now, the question remains...purge even more books, or buy a better bookshelf. ;-)

Anonymous said...

As a former household mover, we loved the preachers and english majors. Book collections bumped our average 7lbs per cubic foot up to 13 lbs per cubic foot. (Movers charge by the weight and mileage).

Jeri Dansky said...

What great comments!

JustGail, many people struggle with the type of books you have. When I'm facing that kind of decision, I come back to Peter Walsh's words: "Imagine the life you want to live." Then it's a matter of deciding if those books help you lead that life, or not.

Capital Junk, old school books have a limited useful life in many cases, because the information can become dated. Sometimes you can find them good new homes, but not always. There are a number of websites that will buy (some) old textbooks.

Jill, I gave up on those "thought I SHOULD read them" books a while ago! I know you're not alone in moving into the mostly-ebook world; I'm always glad to hear from someone who's made that choice. Personally, I've enjoyed reading a few books on my iPad, but that's as far as I've gotten for now.

Julie, I never read Moby Dick and just can't get inspired to change that situation. I've got unread fiction waiting for me on my bookshelves, but no Moby Dick.

And Anonymous, thanks for adding that bit of information and giving me a laugh.