Monday, April 28, 2014

Decluttering the Backlog of Books to Read

Print: So many books, so little time - Frank Zappa
Print by Lab No. 4

Are your bookshelves overflowing with unread books? Here are some reflections to inspire you to consider doing some weeding, and one technique for deciding what you might let go of.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen accumulates a lot of books from conferences she attends, which leads her to run out of shelf space. When she goes to cull, she has an interesting approach; she does a quick read of page 1 and page 119 to decide if a book is worth keeping.
For books with prologues, I use the first page of the first chapter as my page 1. If page 119 isn’t a full page, I use the closest full page.
Her blog post shows that when she did her May 2013 culling, 21 books got a yes to both pages; 8 were OK on page 1, but not page 119; and 18 got a no on page 1.

And here's Jen Doll:
Some people are plagued with guilt about the books they've left undone. They either unhappily force themselves to finish once they start, or they consciously decide to move on and feel like quitters for doing so.

I have heard tell of this type of reader. This reader is not me. I am an unabashedly proud leaver of half-finished books. ...

As for the book that simply didn't grab me by the first 100 pages — well, I consider that giving the book a chance. That's the first and maybe even the second date, the time in which I must be enticed in order to go forward. ...

Reading is not about the chore of finishing a book, it's about pleasure, regardless of the type of pleasure we expect from reading (some want a challenge, some want a good story, some want to look smart).
Then there's the counting of how many books we own vs. how many we can realistically read in our remaining lifetime. James Collins made that calculation:
I am not in any way a collector of books, but I am an accumulator of them. Counting shelves and estimating an average number per shelf, I figure that my bookcases hold about 4,250 books. In addition, I own over 100 books on my Kindle, and there are at least a couple of hundred in boxes in the basement. Let’s call it 5,000 books. ...

How many of my books have I already read? ... I am a little shocked to discover that on any given shelf, I seem to have read ... only about one-third of the books.

That leaves around 3,300 unread books. If I read one book a week ... but you and I know that I don’t read one book a week, I read a couple a month, grazing in a few others. If I read two books a month, it would take me 137 years to read those unread books. ... I am not going to live for 137 more years, and therefore I do not have enough time left to read the books I own.
Which brings to mind Italo Calvino's wondrous list of sections in the bookstore, which includes:
Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
Related Posts:
Book Lovers: Stop Reading Books You Don't Like
It's OK to Give Up on a Book
Not Every Book is Worth Finishing
Don't Spend Time on Books You Don't Enjoy

1 comment:

BethB said...

For years my mindset was that you do not get rid of books. When I was little and visiting friends, I'd wonder why some didn't have built-in shelves for books in the living room.

But suddenly when doing a whole-house decluttering, I decided to embrace ruthlessness. We donated a couple of thousand books to our local Friends of the Library group for their annual auction.

Each book I kept had to either be *specifically* loved or be a good reference or one I'd read again. No one time reads allowed. They had to earn their space. And now the books that remain feel special.

Bonus: our Friends of the Library donated $200,000 to the county library system to buy ebooks. And we were a tiny part of that.