Culling the Shelves

This post at Salon looks at the necessity of weeding through the home library. Probably not going to read that biography again? It’s out. That extra copy of The Great Gatsby? Don’t need it. That novel you got as a birthday gift but probably aren’t going to crack? Gone.

Still, it can be hard to remove books from your shelves, even if you aren’t attached the the individual titles. What happens if you give away a book and suddenly want it again?

“But any book weeder, no matter how lenient, inevitably wonders if he’s weeding too much. Like many readers, I’ve often confronted the basic dilemma of culling one’s shelves, which is that the book one gives away today is the very title that will be needed — or fervently desired — tomorrow. I feel a tinge of grievance each time I’m required to visit my public library and borrow reference books that, in some previous clean-out, I donated to the collection. As if plotting to spring them from jail, I sometimes wonder if I can secretly steal them back. A friend of mine still mourns for a poetry anthology she let go many years ago — a book that she can never hope to recover since she’s long forgotten its name.”

It’s literary anxiety–what if you make the wrong choice about what books to give away? It’s better to just keep them all, right? After all, books are good for you. It’s not like hoarding shoes that don’t fit anymore or old birthday cards or coats you won’t wear again. The more books, the better, right?

Well, that’s not exactly true either:

“A librarian friend tells me that weeding a book collection can increase readership, allowing gems to emerge from the clutter. My most recent book weeding reconnected me with lots of old books I’d like to revisit, including Lewis Thomas’ “The Youngest Science” and Somerset Maugham’s “Ashenden.” Rediscovering these keepers has been like finding spare money in last year’s jacket.

The extra shelf space gained from a morning’s worth of weeding is a nice dividend, too. Maybe I won’t feel too guilty — at least for a little while — as the shelves slowly refill.”

I like the idea that any space you leave opens you up for new reading experiences, or the opportunity to revisit books you previously loved. Recently, my husband and I gave away a couple boxes of books and shifted some of the remaining to a new bookshelf. Now I feel like I get to see books I had been missing before. (Granted, lots of books had been hidden behind others.)

It can be hard to give away books, but in the end it’s worth it. And if you give away a book you later want again, you can search it out at the library or admit your mistake and reinvest in another copy. But so far I haven’t had any regrets from sending old books to new owners.

Do you have a hard time giving away books?

0 thoughts on “Culling the Shelves

  1. 4amWriter says:

    I guess it depends on the book. As much as I like reading, I don’t have a lot of space in my house for books. So I have to be picky. Generally, if I’ll read a book more than once or if it’s a great book that I can study by (for instance, the use of antagonist, or structure, or dialogue, etc), I’ll keep it. Otherwise, I’ll sell it in yard sales or give it to the library.

  2. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    I used to have to sell all my books back to make ends meet end of quarter, so that I swore someday I’d never willingly part with another book.

    Now I find it fairly easy. Unless a book is so stunning I know I’m going to read it again (first examples that come to mind are The Princess Bride and If I Stay), I like to pass along the experience and/or knowledge. I either set books into a donation pile, a give-to-friends pile or, if I’ve loved something but not doubt I’ll read it again, give it away on my Facebook page. There’s even been one instance where I loved a book (A Monster Calls) so much I felt compelled to pass it along instantly because holding on to it felt like depriving someone of an amazing truth.

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