Monday, 1 May 2017

A Guide to Culling Your Bookshelves - or Not? by Penny Dolan

The bright spring sunlight shining deep inside the rooms has revealed the fact that there may be too many books in this house.

Most of the book-shelves are double-parked, any wide windowsill is crammed full and large armchairs conceal titles piled high on the floor behind. There is also a growing amount of “temporary” wooden-wine-box shelving stacked in odd corners and rooms.

I should be thinking of culling some, but where to begin, when there are so many categories? And by this I don’t mean all the fiction/ non fiction / genres / classic/ contemporary/ books to review or any of that stuff.

When I look at all the bookshelves here, another set of categories emerges, far more complex than the Mari-Kondo “spark joy” principle. For example, there are:


The Liked & Loved Ones
Books that I long to re-read.
Books I read far, far too quickly that should be re-read.

The “Oh, That-Title, Possibly” Shrug
Books I read and possibly misjudged that may deserve another look.
Books I began and partly-read which – perhaps - need to be looked at again.

The Challengers
Books I want to read but that I’m saving - truly - for just the right moment and mood.
Books that need a greater time-commitment and less busy mind than is now available here.
Books I know I ought to read, and want to read but now is not the moment.
Books where I got so angry about something in the voice or attitude during the first few pages that I’m not sure I want to go there again.

The Quietly Studious
Books about some person or place or time I really want to know about.
Books about ditto that I really need to know much, much more about, very soon.

The Sentimental
Books someone gave me that remind me of that moment and that giver.
Books someone I know has written.
Books that belonged to someone who is no longer around.
Books read at a certain, significant stage in my life or education.
Books someone I know is reading that I want to read because of that link.

The Needed Delights
Books that calm the mind and offer a kind of escape. Self-help not included,
Books that are visually beautiful and/or offer satisfying diagrams and maps.

The Read-Very-Much-in-Hope Titles
Books that might make me a better writer, in quantity.
Books that might make me a better person.
Books that let me pretend my domestic life (etc) is orderly because I have them.

And so on and so on though, of course, some categories overlap.

How does one even begin to cull the crowded stacks and shelves when so much is mingled there? And that’s without even starting on the titles themselves . . . Oh dear!

Do you have any "category" you’d add to this list?


RubySue said...

Thanks for a thought-provoking post Penny - I empathise with your dilemma. The other category I'd add is the classic fiction I read at uni but whose print is now far too small and jammed together for me to read confortably. Whether I can bear to ditch all my Austens and Brontes is another matter.

Penny Dolan said...

Good point, RubySue! I have a life of Yeats here which, though not uni or fiction, fits into that category. Not sure whether it should be called "Parsimonious Design" or "Failing Eyesight" category.

Mary Hoffman said...

There are Books to Consult rather than to read. I feel we have too many of them. And we do need to have a mighty purge so your categories will be helpful.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Mary. Good Luck!

I did wonder about a category of Books Too Heavy to Be Read in Bed For Long - and yes, I'm thinking of you and your Keep On Keeping On, dear Alan Bennett. (Aka The Facial Bruise Collection.)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Books I read and enjoyed but know in my heart I will never read again. Books that I now have in ebook, or can get easily in ebook. Last year, I bit the bullet and culled around 100 books(nowhere near enough). They all went to good homes. I was attending a science fiction convention, which does fundraising. I offered them books in the above two categories. They had to be in excellent condition(and let's face it, if they were battered it would be because I loved them enough to reread multiple times, so would not part with). People who won them in the trivia quiz or raffle had to believe they were new. They had to be speculative fiction of some variety. After all, this was a science fiction event.

But your shelves sound like mine. I hope you will consider a cull. Then you can refill those spaces with NEW books!

Pippa Goodhart said...

I've suddenly come to a stage in life where I'm at last happy to wave goodbye to the Books I Sweated For Hours Over, But Know I'll Never Need Again. In my case, these are fat history text books of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles sort, bought with the discount I got at Heffers when working in university holidays, and with pencilled notes in margins. I've handed a stack of them over to a daughter who has the patience for ebay and the need for the cash, and she and I are both happy with the arrangement. Happy sorting, Penny!

Penny Dolan said...

Sue, I like your additional categories, although I have rather gone off e-reading lately. I am not sure why and will no doubt be glad of it the next time I go travelling about. You seemed to have found just the right place and the eager audience for your SF titles. The condition is important, and I know some of the third-hands here are definitely the worse for wear or library sales items.

I will cull, Sue. Sometime soon, Promise. (Ahem.)

So lovely to be able to be generous with such much-studied volumes, Pippa, and also feel happily unburdened while someone else is doing all the e-baying! (No, I will not nip over and look . . .)

catdownunder said...

Hah! We have been clearing out some books. My father has collected gardening, woodwork, theatrical, history, philosophy, psychology, books of jokes,magic tricks and more over the years. He decided recently to "get rid of some". He has discovered that "people look things up on line now". Eventually "most" of the gardening books have gone to a gardening club, "most" of the woodwork books have gone to a men's woodwork shed and a carving group. The rest? "They might still be useful" says the 94yr old. At least it made me cull some old psychology, education and duplicate dictionaries. I suppose it is a start.
Do you have any duplicates?

Penny Dolan said...

No duplicates, catdownunder. I'm wondering whether your father's most matches your most.:-)

catdownunder said...

A very good question indeed! :)

tracy alexander said...

Yes to all the above, but I also have books I can't read but want to. I've tried but can't get past the same spot each time. These, inexplicably, include Midnight's Children and The Poisonwood Bible.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Tracy that's odd because I LOVED The Poisonwood Bible. Maybe that's why we need so many books... we all need something different at different times in our life.

I read you blog late Penny... after my own 'decluttering of paper' blog but books are maybe in a more precious category and harder to cast aside. My shelves are so limited. People look oddly at me when I say if I buy a book I have to get rid of one. Loved your concept of 'clutter boxes' by the way.

Sharon Tregenza said...

I'm having to declutter my books at the moment because I've just put my house on the market. It calls for tough love. I hope I have the strength, Penny.