Anne here. My book cull is continuing at a very s l o w pace. It's nearly a year since I moved, and the new bookshelves were finished by Christmas — I know, disgraceful that I'm still not finished. But I have plenty of space and the boxes of books that are piled up are in a spare room that I don't particularly need. I mostly read on an e-reader now so there's no urgency to get at the books. As well, I've been busy writing. And partly it's because I injured my shoulder and find it difficult to lift anything. I'm undergoing physical therapy for that, so things should improve.
It's not as if I have no room for books. I have a new built-in bookshelf that covers the entire wall of my office. (see pic) The little sticky notes you can see are to roughly sort them into alphabetical order.
I also have a 5 x 3 ft bookshelf in the guest room that I've filled with a selection of books that a guest might like to browse through. I have a 6 x 3ft bookshelf that contains my history references and my writing books — they were the first books I unpacked. I have several low and wide bookshelves for my larger coffee-table sized books and sundry other items (Scabble, anyone?), and a tall empty bookshelf sitting in the hall that I might paint and keep. Even so, I have too many books.
A while back, when we were answering an AAW on rereading books, Wench Nicola asked "I wonder when I look at my bookshelves: Why do I keep books I have no intention of re-reading…?" And that got me thinking. Because I have this battle with myself every single time I unpack a box of books and look at the contents and try to decide whether to keep each book or cull it. It's ridiculously difficult.
There are books I haven't touched in years, and can't imagine ever rereading. They're good books, worthy books. I'm sure if I pass them on to charity shop or a second-hand bookshop — or even to the little street library down the street in a neighbor's front yard — there will be people who will want them. And yet I hesitate. Why?
Books are part of my history
Various books are from particular periods in my life, and I have trouble deciding whether I want to delete that part of the evidence of who I once was.
What sort of things? Novels, collections of poetry and plays that I studied at university. Childhood books. Periods of my life when I had a passion for this or that. Authors I used to follow who I don't read any more. Crafts books I no longer need. Books I used in my teaching career.
These include most of my childhood books, many of which are not the actual copies I read as a child — those generally belonged to my older siblings who were having kids of their own while I was starting high school, or else Mum gave them away to kids she thought might enjoy them. When I left home and I saw a beloved childhood book on sale second-hand, I bought it. I have several copies of the AA Milne books with the original Ernest Shephard illustrations.
But there are also books that evoke special times or places or events in my life, or books that really swept me away at the time, so even though I probably won't ever reread them, I can't cull them.
Books are part of my history
There's quite a collection of books I used to use when I was teaching. There is no chance I'll need them again to teach, so I really ought to pass them on. Not history books — I'm keeping all of them — but other books I used when teaching a variety of humanities subjects, and lots of books about teaching English as a second (or third etc) language. However the world and academic approaches have changed and they might be irrelevant now — and can I bear them to be tossed in the recycle bin?
A friend of mine dropped around recently and went through the current boxes of the books I planned to discard. She exclaimed over several literary novels, and others I studied at university. She picked up Camus' The Plague, and said, "I've always felt I should have read this, so can I have it?" Of course I urged her to take whatever she wanted, and she took away a pile. Since then she's been reading The Plague and comparing it with our CoVid experience and commenting on the notes that I apparently left in the book when I studied it.
It felt a bit weird. I had no memory of those notes and only a hazy memory of the book, and for a minute or two felt I should have kept that book and others as a memory of "intelligent me" or "academic me." But then I thought, what for? Did I think that I should do on-line events sitting in front of a bookcase filled with impressive-looking literary books? A lot of authors do. But no, I decided, that's past me, not current me, and I don't care if my bookshelves look impressive or deeply frivolous. Or are not in the picture at all.
I have one 6ft 6'' x 3 ft bookshelf in which I'm storing all my keeper romance novels. Some are all-time favorites. These Ibbotson books I acquired through laborious and expensive on-line sales of secondhand books, because they were out of print at the time. And were shipped from the northern hemisphere. Of course, as soon as my collection was complete, they republished her.
Other books are written by friends — I have quite a collection of first novels by friends who are now bestsellers. But still, they don't all fit in that bookshelf, so I have to cull that collection. If I find a book I want to add, I'm trying to choose one to cull. It's so hard.
Quite a few books are duplicates of some of the books I 'own' on kindle. The inverted commas around 'own' are because I have no great faith that any e-book retailer will stay in business for my lifetime. I've had sad emails in the past from readers whose e-copies of my books disappeared when their e-tailer went out of business.
Or maybe changes in technology will make my e-books unreadable. I'm of the generation that first had vinyl records, then cassette tapes, then I replaced my favorite records with CDs and gave the records away, and now it's back to retro vinyl or music on wifi. So I don't trust that won't happen with books.
So it's hard, divesting myself of books that I've spent my whole life collecting. But as much as I don't want to do it, I also DO want to do it. But I'll probably be talking about culling my books for another year, at least.
What about you— do you find it hard to get rid of "stuff", particularly books, or are you able to cull happily and efficiently? Do you keep books you know you won't read again? Why do you think you do?