Hello! It’s already been a busy week here on the blog – don’t forget to check out my interview with Derek Farrell and my review of his latest book if you haven’t already. Anyway, today I wanted to use my #Recommendsday post not to talk about a book, but to extoll the virtues of having a book clear out every now and then.
As you may have seen in yesterday’s Week in Books, we’re about to have some work done in the house and this means we’re packing up half the house basically (our big downstairs living area and the spare bedroom) to put it into storage while the work is done. It’s not major building work, just plastering and associated stuff that all goes better if there’s no furniture in the way. And where are the main places in our house where my books live? The living room and the spare bedroom of course. So I’ve taken this opportunity to have what my mum calls a “rationalisation” of the bookshelves and I wanted to share my methodology (if it can be called that) with all of you. Some things I know I’m keeping, no question – basically the Children’s book collection, the Georgette Heyers and the Peter Wimseys – but for most of the rest of the books, these are the questions I ask myself during a clear out.
So the first and most important questions has to be: will I ever read it again? Now if a book has made it to one of my keeper shelves, it has done so because I thought when I finished it that I would want to read it again. But have I? And do I still think that? If the answer is no, then the book can probably go. If it’s been 3 years and I haven’t read it again do I really need to keep it? My downstairs bookshelf tend to be where the frequent rereads are, so if I haven’t read something on that for a while, it’s time to relegate it to upstairs and see if I miss it. If I don’t miss it, it can probably go next time.
Next up: Am I sentimentally attached to it? This is the reason why I still have copies of most of my A Level and GCSE texts – they’re filled with my notes and scribbles and they remind me of English classes (and history classes) and how much I enjoyed them. It’s why I found it so hard to get rid of a book about the Congress of Vienna that I’ve never managed to get past page 50 (of 600) in – because I bought it in a fit of misty nostalgia about my writing my A Level coursework about the Congress just after I finished University. It’s been unread for a decade – and I’ve only just now put it in the bag for the charity shop and deleted it from my to-read list on Goodreads.
The next question is am I keeping it for completeness or because it’s part of a set? Do I really need to? I’ve got rid of a few books this time that are by authors that I used to buy everything from but now… less so. I’ve kept my favourites of theirs – the ones that I do re-read – but I’ve jettisoned the rest. This is all made easier for me if the author has changed publisher and the books no longer match – because we know how much I like matching sets of books!
And finally, if I changed my mind, how hard would it be to replace this? Most of the time the answer is that it would be fairly easy. Occasionally, I’ve already got an ebook copy so that solves the problem. But if it’s out of print or not available in ebook (or very expensive in ebook) then I might hold on to stuff for a little bit longer. But there comes a point where you have to let go.
And I’ve let quite a lot go. I’ve even weeded the to-read pile and got rid of stuff that I know in my heart I’m never going to get around to reading because there’ll always be something “more important”. I’ve got rid of books by authors that I’ve gone off and don’t buy any more, stuff that I kept to make my bookshelves look cool and least favourite books/series by some authors that I do still like. My mum’s WI will have a a very well stocked book stall this month, and I’ve still got a bag or two for the charity shop.
The key thing now, is to resist the temptation to keep buying physical books while the to-read pile is away in storage. I love m kindle, but sometimes I just want a proper book to read. I’m hoping to solve/mitigate this urge by keeping a small stack from the to-read pile by my bed for when I feel the urge to read actual words printed on a piece of paper…
Cross your fingers for me.