Thursday Thoughts: On Weeding My Book Collection

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A little over a month ago I culled over 400 books from my home. That is about two-thirds of my collection. We were downsizing from a three bedroom, two bath house with a basement to an apartment. I would no longer have a study. I would no longer have built-in shelves in the living area. Instead I would have a little blip of wall in the dining room and a small shelf in my bedroom to fill. I needed to cut down on my books and needed to do it quickly.

First I cut two hundred.

Then I cut just over two hundred more.

If you count cookbooks and kids’ books, then I cleared out close to 450 titles.

I posted a picture on Instagram and immediately the comments came pouring in. “How can you cut Don Quixote!?” “You’re ditching Jane Austen?!” “No! That (insert historical title) is so good!”

Of course, I agreed with all the above statements. I was getting rid of some really good books.

Friends offered to store the books for me and, while the intentions were good, it made me uncomfortable. Do I really need to horde boxes of books in someone’s house for several years? No. Nothing I had was rare or had a high-cash value. Perhaps it is because I’ve worked in a library for ten years, but I don’t think holding onto the books for the sake of holding on to them is a good thing. The reason why I like to buy books is to have them readily available. You never know when you’ll want to read Wuthering Heights at three in the morning. And books are beautiful! Even though I didn’t read everything I owned, I loved gazing at so many rows of book spines and inhaling the wondrous papery smell. Packed up in a box they would just sit.

Then I started to think about my twelve-year old self growing a burgeoning collection of books. I received books for Christmas and birthdays, but we were a working class family and there was no money for extra books. I checked out my maximum allotment of books each week from the library, but books to own were scare. My mom had three large shelves of books, but I wanted my own. Lucky for me the public library had a huge library book sale once a year. I can remember filling up my paper bag with whatever titles looked good. In fact, that was how I first learned of Sylvia Plath. I found a well-worn copy of The Journals of Sylvia Plath at a library sale and I was hooked. I still have my first two library book sale purchases, two poetry books: English Romantic Poets and a blue book that is an old poetry textbook. From those books I breathed “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and “The Lady of Shalot” for a year. I was nine years old. Relatives gifted me boxes of books from yard sales and I always went to the book section of the thrift store first. My first job was at a book store and I used my first paycheck to buy Atlas Shrugged, Catcher in the Rye, and Slaughterhouse-5. I had books of my own because other people (and libraries) saw fit to rid themselves of excess books for very little money.

I also knew that I wanted to begin building a collection to keep on my shelves forever, Instead of a tattered, yellowed, falling-apart copy of The Woman in White, I wanted a Penguin Clothbound. I ditched my mish-mash of Austen because she is a favorite; I long to collect set of beautiful, deckle-edged, French-flapped Austen beauties. Obviously I cannot run out and purchase them all right now, but when I decide to re-read Persuasion I could probably swing the $15 to $20 to get the copy I want (or find a used copy for less). Honestly, I also missed the hunt. My full to bursting shelves didn’t allow for other book sales and pouring through thrift store shelves. Now I have a little room, a bit of space, and I can hunt for titles again.

I sold about a quarter of my books at a yard sale. The rest I gave away. A few were packaged and sent to friends throughout the country. Many were picked up by college work-study students at the library. Most went to the public library for their annual book sale. I consider it a way of “paying it forward” by passing on books I’m not using.

Weeding books can be liberating, but buying books is ecstasy. I’ve been selling you all on letting books g,o but guess who has two thumbs and is going to a massive charity sale next Friday? Yup. That would be me. I have a little bit of room, some stashed change, and a large and empty tote bag. And so it begins… again….

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6 comments

  1. I loved reading this Amanda. 🙂 I resonated so much with your feelings & why you decided against storage, and I loved hearing about your childhood book collecting.

    I weeded quite a bit, probably a third (200ish books) of my collection a few years ago (maybe 2012?), and I’ve never regretted it. Like you, I’m now in a position to add to my book collection, which is exciting! Sometimes I treat myself to a Better World Books order (if you buy books in the sale section, you get a better deal if you buy multiples), and it’s lovely knowing I won’t have to force books on to shelves to make room.

  2. I can so relate to this post! I culled about 5 or 6 years ago and now give away books liberally (usually to a prison book project here). It’s wonderful to have the space on my shelves. I keep any books especially sentimental to me. I keep in mind that there is always the library or my e-reader. I’ve gotten less attached to the actual books and it’s been liberating. Great post!

  3. This made me smile. Just yesterday I was muttering that I needed more shelves. The truth is that I am WAY overdue for a good culling! Many times I have wished that I hadn’t gotten rid of books I had when I was a kid (mainly as my own kids got to those ages), but I’ve also gotten rid of a whole bunch of stuff through the years that I’ve never missed. That’s the part I tend to forget. I feel like there are a whole lot of books sitting on my shelves that I don’t actually LOVE, and that I’ll probably never read again…it is time for them to make way for those that I do love and that will get reread. Thanks for the little “push.” And, Happy Shopping! 🙂

  4. I love this post! I cull a few times a year – whenever my shelves start to overflow. It’s nice to get rid of the books I didn’t love or that I bought at a library sale years ago and have lost interest in. I like to think of it as “curating” my collection. The more I weed out, the better my collection becomes — it’s just the books I love, not cluttered with books I know I’ll never read again.

  5. I’ve had to do this because I wanted to; then again I’ve done this just because I HAD to do it. Over the years it has become a necessity to do some ‘culling with hair pulling and angst’… But always worth it, though alway tough. Great post.

  6. I fully believe in letting books go. Once I read a book, unless I loved it with all of my heart, I pass it on. Mostly I hold onto books so when people come over I can say to them: “Oh, you HAVE to read this book!” I just put up new shelves and it made my TBR look so much more manageable and I have a little extra space for more…

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