Books, books, books

A few weeks ago, one of my commenters wondered: "What is your criteria for getting rid of books – how do you decide which
one goes out??? – I’m having a hard time getting rid of them, maybe I can be enlighted??"

We’re struggling with this now as we contemplate packing our large collection of books.  (We have a good sized room with two walls entirely built-in bookshelves, and are still overflowing.  We are definitely going to need to buy or build more shelves if we get this new house.)

Fundamentally, we’re pretty terrible at getting rid of books.  We purge reluctantly, and with pain.  The only reason that we’re not completely overrun with books is that we mostly get books out of the library rather than buying them.  (I pretty much only buy books these days when neither of the local systems has them available or when I need a paperback to read on an airplane.  I stay out of used book stores because I’ve discovered that my propensity to walk out with piles of books is by no means limited by my lack of reading time.  At least when my eyes are bigger than my stomach at the library, I eventually have to return the books.)

Via Jenny Davidson at Light Reading, I read this interesting discussion of whether your personal book collection should consist of mostly read or mostly unread books. I’d guess that mine is probably about 90 percent read.  I used to re-read a lot, but these days almost never do — too many
books I haven’t read that I still want to read.  But I keep books that
I’ve read around for a number of reasons — because I want to lend them to friends, because I want to be able to look up passages from them, because I know they’re impossible to find, because they’re of sentimental value, or just because seeing them on the shelf reminds me of the pleasure I had when I read them.

So, what categories of books do I get rid of?

  • Books that are disintegrating, unless they are truly irreplacable.  1970s-era paperbacks are not worth keeping around.
  • Books that I’ve read and I know I won’t ever read again (and don’t want to keep to lend to friends).  Maybe I didn’t like them, or I liked them but they were fundamentally fluff, or I liked them but they were 800 pages and life is too short.
  • Books that I’ve had for several years and not read and I finally admit to myself that they’re never going to make it to the top of my to read pile.  Some of these were gifts, but these days they’re also likely to be very long and dry history books that I had all the best intentions of reading.
  • Classics that I know I’ll always be able to find at a library.


I’m up to the last chapter in reading I Was a Rat! by Phillip Pullman to D.  I thought it was great, but I’m afraid most of the humor went over D’s head.  It’s definitely suitable for younger children than Pullman’s The Golden Compass, but I’d still say probably better for a 9 or 10 year old than for a 6 year old.  Oh well.

7 Responses to “Books, books, books”

  1. Jody Says:

    We had built-ins in our last house, and none in this house, so all my fiction and fun non-fiction (as opposed to history-related stuff, which claimed what bookshelves we own) is still packed away. I’ve gone without it for almost three years now, and I know I’ll be doing a purge when I do eventually unpack. Although I hate to delete things from LibraryThing….
    Pullman was the author of a picture-book version of Puss in Boots that is very cleverly written and perfect for this age. If you’re looking for something with his imprint. (For example: the miller’s son tells the king’s daughter the truth about his identity, and she decides to marry him anyway.)

  2. landismom Says:

    Yeah, this is something I really struggle with. In addition to your categories, I also have an (internal) category called, “books I want my kids to stumble on and read, just because they’re in the house.” I read lots of stuff in high school that I wouldn’t have, just because my dad had them lying around somewhere–I want my kids to have that experience too.
    So far, I’ve done a fair job of getting rid of genre fiction, but mostly the way I’m getting rid of it is by trading it on various book trading sites, and then I just end up with more books anyway!

  3. Hope Says:

    I’ve taken to deaccessioning by leaving books behind when we go on vacation, particularly if we rent a condo.
    I’ve also established a personal rule that I’m not allowed to buy a book unless I get rid of one.

  4. Julie Says:

    When getting rid of those books that you’ve never read, bear in mind that the Barnes & Noble returns policy allows returns without receipt of unused books. They’ll give you store credit for the current price of that book, if they carry it in the store. That holiday season working at B&N in my 20s came in handy when I met my husband who had a huge collection of self-help books from his mother (there’s a long story). He returned almost all of them and bought things that he really would read. As long as people don’t cut out the price or write a little note to you, it’s a great way to recycle unwanted gifts.

  5. jackie Says:

    I just did a book purge and I got rid of: books I didn’t like the first time, books that were badly-written fluff, outdated child development books, and some academic books I know I’ll never use again. I keep well-written fluff :). I also keep academic books that are important to me, and I definitely keep books I hope my kids will read someday.
    I have a small portion of books on my shelf I’ve never read, but some of them are books I’ve started several times and have never been able to finish, like “Wings of the Dove” and “Middlemarch.” I remain optimistic, though!

  6. Christine Says:

    I just cleaned off my book shelves a week ago to start space for my daughter’s library. Since I teach I keep all work related books for reference. I keep any book I have tabbed pages or underlined text. A week ago I purged fiction I have read and do not plan on rereading. I plan on passing it along to friends or donating it a nursing home.

  7. MCMilker Says:

    In my house, it is different rules for different family members. My DH keeps most of his as he reads mostly non-fiction and history – and buys fewer.
    I get rid of my fluff fiction on a regular basis by leaving them on airplanes and in hotel rooms. I also have been able to toss quite a number of reference books that are now available on the Internet (Mortgage rate calculator, calorie counter, etc.) I try not to buy books for myself anymore- preferring to browse used book stores and Goodwill – where I leave a few and pick up a few.
    For my DS, I try to “disappear” the trashier books, those that are poorly written
    (which seems to cover a huge range of picture books)- with mixed results – “Mom, where’s my….”
    I’ve been hanging on to the board books, in case he may want to pick them up when he starts to read in the next year or so but, we are seriously running out of room to store them.

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