Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Culling

I have donated nearly 250 books to the upcoming Friends of the Library sale. Now not all of them were mine - I did also take donations from my book club. But at least 100 were, maybe more. And thanks to the size of my donation, I was interviewed by the local paper. One question I was asked is how I decide what to get rid of? Good question. He also asked how many books do I have? I estimated 1000. That impressed him. (I have a friend with 10,000 books in her house - I think my book collection is quite reasonable.)

Well, due to the sheer volume of books in my house, I have had a longstanding policy of getting rid of books as soon as I read them. Naturally, there are oodles of exceptions. My favorite authors are exceptions (Jill McCorkle, David Sedaris, Pat Conroy, Anne Tyler, Tom Franklin, Norma Klein) and sometimes new books I read are so awesome they also have to stay (such as The Wilder Life) but those truly have to be the best of the best. Now I know some people would be uncomfortable with this rule, but I don't just throw them out or sell them to a used bookstore or even donate them willy-nilly. Usually I find them a good home. I read a book and at the end I say to myself "K would love this," and I put it aside for her. The FoL sale though was an exception to that usual policy (except for a couple of books that have been set aside for others, but only a couple.)

I also keep all Jane Austen-related books. Although I don't read them. I know that's weird. I like to have them. I have almost a whole shelf of them! But I worry they'll be so disappointing that I just don't even want to try them. I have read 2 over the years, and both were pretty good, but I just can't shake that feeling.

And I have all my English books from college (and most from high school). Well, I did until I finally decided to get rid of some for this sale. I had a matching set of the complete works by Byron, Keats, and Coleridge. I hated British Romanticism, poetry in particular but at the time I thought these books one day would look nice in my living room and make me look cultured and educated. But now I know that I don't need British poets I hate to make me look smart. I am smart and my old school books were hidden away in an upstairs bedroom where the old beat-up paperbacks didn't look shabby and cheap. So those are now gone. Along with the Cambridge Guide to the English Language.

So this opens up all my English books for potential culling. But this is a new notion for me, so I couldn't bring myself to dig deeper, although I still have a week before the FoL sale in case I want to donate more. There are other old school books I hated on those shelves, like Billy Budd and David Copperfield. I don't need to hang onto them. I never refer back to them. The odds of me rereading them are slim to none. And if I were desperate to reread after getting rid of them, well the great thing about public domain classics is that you can buy a new one for only about $5.

I have managed to whittle down my two stacks of books in the living room to one! I am working now on getting that second pile onto shelves. Maybe I can bring myself to get rid of more of the school books. They'd be very easy to deal with at the FoL sale as I know any of those books will go straight to the Classics table, so no hard sorting involved. It'll be tough - I've had some of these books for over 20 years. But I think it's time.

Do you keep all your books? What do you get rid of? How to do get rid of them? Donate, friends, sell? Should I get rid of my high school and college classics? Should Sir Gawain and Gilgamesh find new homes?


Anonymous said...

I think book culling is such a personal thing. Each reader has to discover what they are comfortable with. I'm not very sentimental about my books and I do give away, donate, and have even sold books in the past. I kind of have to weed them periodically because I end up with way too many.

DCMetroreader said...

In the past it has been difficult for me, but lately I have been getting better at book purging. I like your idea of rehoming them to great homes!

melissa sovey said...

I just donated books to a local bookstore collecting for a new shelter in town. I love the idea of building a library of sorts for the residents, adults and children alike. I will admit to selling some books at a garage sale last year (first items to go, by the way) but for some weird reason, it was unsettling! Books that will be mine forever... my collection on Eastern philosophy and medicine, and the warm and beautifully worn editions that decorate by shelves and tabletops.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I just came across your blog and this post was one I could relate too. I have been donating, donating for our Library's May book sale. Since I got my Kindle, I really wish I could afford to add every book except about 50/600 as an eBook and donate the rest. I am trying to become more of a minimalist and all these books are impeding my progress:)

Congrats on all the weeding.

Ellie said...

Wow, congratulations on letting go of such a massive number of books! Take a look through your school classics again - I think somewhere deep down, we just KNOW when it's time to get rid of a book, then it doesn't hurt so much!

I have a second-hand bookshop which is kind of a double-edged sword when it comes to letting books go. On the one hand, any book I give up, particularly ones I've bought new and read (carefully) once, is a free book for the shop. On the other hand, unless I put them out on the display shelf and sell them quickly, they're still sitting there tempting me to take them back home again...

Carin Siegfried said...

I did it! I didn't give away ALL of my old English books from school, but I did give away about half of them. I got rid of books I knew there was no way I'd ever read again (some I had even hated when I first read them). I did keep some that are beloved - To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, The Color Purple. But I am thrilled with my new shelf space!