mardi 3 juillet 2012

On Getting Rid of Books

I keep reading "minimalist" blogs whose authors have pared their physical possessions down to very little. As we prepare to move, I really feel a desire to do the same thing. To be free instead of bogged down with "stuff." I've started to pare down my things (my clothes, for example) but I still have a long way to go.

I've read about so many people getting rid of their books. My husband reads a lot, but when I met him he only owned about a dozen books. My father-in-law reads a lot too, but he only has a small bookshelf at home. He mostly borrows from the library, or gives away all the books that he buys after reading them.

Here are some of the essays about book-culling that I've read. One particularly inspiring blog post is this one:

The tips he gives are good ones, I think. These two I would definitely like to apply:

- Set aside one shelf of your book case as your "desert island" shelf. (books I'd want with me if I were stranded on a desert island, that I could read over and over again for the rest of my life.) [I would probably use the shelf next to my bed]

- Grab a notebook and start writing down your thoughts about each book as you take it off your shelves. If you can't think of anything to say, you probably won't miss the book if it weren't there anymore. (Sometimes, it's the way a book made us feel, our connection to the story or a character that keeps us from letting go of the book itself. Once you get those emotions and thoughts out, it can be easier to pass the book on to someone else who you think would love the story as much as you did.)

As for this article (, these are the lines that most resonated with me:

"For anyone attached to the book as an object of beauty or to one's own library as a physical testimony to the depth and breadth of one's literary experience, such shedding requires a certain ruthlessness. [...] I am well into the second phase of life when one begins to enjoy getting rid of all the stuff one enjoyed accumulating in phase one. And who needs such elaborate announcements of one's literary credentials?"


"If I'm being honest, some of [my books] are on my shelf because I like the idea of them being on my shelf."

(Ouch. It's true, though.)

From this article ( I could have written this myself (especially now that I've started borrowing ebooks from the library):

"The best part [of getting rid of my books] is that after getting rid of all those books, I am reading more than ever. Counter intuitive, but true and amazing! I used to have a ton of books that I fretted over not reading. Now I put titles that I want to read on hold at the library [...]. I either have to read or renew within three weeks, so I'm motivated to crack the books and actually get through them. If I owned these books, I probably wouldn't even start them, let alone finish them. They would probably gather dust, and I would probably feel guilty about them."

And finally, this article gives ideas for getting rid of books: donating them to the library or charitable organizations, releasing them through BookCrossing, etc.:

Apparently you can sell books through, too.

I have been building up my book collection for almost thirty years now, with the most intensive book-buying happening over the first five years that I moved away from home. A few years ago, I inventoried all my books: the total was a little over 1,200, if I recall correctly. Most of these books are boxed up, at my parents' house. The rest of them are in my apartment. But with the purchase of my first house, I am SO close to having the home library I've always dreamed of: bookshelves filling every wall, so many books there for me to read, more than I will probably have time to read in my lifetime.

On second thought, if I live to be 90 and keep up a steady pace of reading, I might have time to read them all. Last year, I read about 30 books, and this year, I've read fewer than 10 so far. So say i have another 60 years to live, at 30 books a year (optimistically), that's 1800 books. Then again, that's if and only if i only read the books I own. No newly published books, or books loaned to me by friends, or books from the library... Hmm.

Anyway, despite dremaing of a Beauty-and-the-Beast-like majestic home library for years, I'm actually NOT really looking forward to the prospect of moving all those boxes of books. And sometimes I feel bad about my book collection instead of loving it. Instead of making me happy, those rows upon rows of unread books make me feel depressed that I haven't read them yet!

I suppose we change a lot over the years. A wise man once told me that I would change a LOT between 20 and 30. (It's probably true of all decades.) When I was 18, I was starved for books. I didn't have access to any good bookstores or even a decent library in my hometown. My parents bought me books for my birthday and at Christmas, but I read so voraciously that I would finish all the books they gave me just a few days after receiving them. Then I would reread them. And reread them.

I'm not complaining about my childhood (woe is me! I didn't have enough books!). But I always swore that my house would be filled with books and my kids would never run out of things to read.

And now I'm not so sure I want a house filled with books anymore. Well, filled to the brim, anyway...

Here's my plan (I think): pare down my collection using these rules:


- books that I would want to take with me on a deserted island (there can't be THAT many) -- these are also books that I want to be able to pick up at flip through at a moment's notice, at whim
- books that are hard-to-find (smaller publishing houses, rare editions, etc.)
- reference books (dictionaries etc. not available online)
- books that I want to read (and re-read) to my kids. When they're older, we can decide if we want to get rid of them or not.


- is this book a duplicate?
- is this book easy to borrow from the library?
- is this book available in the public domain?
- am I ever going to read this book? honestly: am I even still interested in reading this book?

Realistic? I think so. I hope so. Seems like a good idea.

1 commentaire:

  1. Keep a list of the books you get rid of. Make it a catalog of sorts so that you can know if you ever had it. Include title, author, publisher, isbn, etc so you can easily locate a copy if your heart yearns for it. :) Then it's never quite like getting rid of it. Having a house I totally understand how you feel. I have to occasionally declare that "i'm not a hoarder. I don't need this" because being an artsy type, I can find good uses for just about anything.... or good excuses of why I might need something some day.