The Sack of my Library

As I face returning back to Merry England, I must also face the fact that I left all of my accumulated worldly possessions in the box room allocated to me in my mother’s house when I boarded a plane to New York with one paltry suitcase. Most of these possessions have been proven to be unnecessary, as I haven’t particularly missed any of them. So, a decluttering of my life will have to commence once my abandoned possessions and I are reunited.

I have to admit, most of these possessions are of the book shaped variety. Unfortunately, my family are not in any way bookish, and my unwieldy collection is barely tolerated by my mum, who was charged with taking care of my ‘library’ while I was away. She keeps making vague threats about ‘having a clear out’ and innocently mentions ‘I’m just taking a few things to the charity shop, I’ll take that pile of books you left in the dining room, shall I?’. She also thoroughly enjoys striking terror into my heart when she drops into conversation that ‘oh, the boys were playing in your room today and they might have ripped a couple of your books, they were just old grubby looking ones though, don’t worry.’ Can you imagine the horror of such indifference?!?! Plus my dad keeps ominously reminding me that as the builders will soon be swooping in to double the size of my mum’s house, the safety of my boxes of books that are scattered throughout the attic, garage and in corners of various rooms cannot be guaranteed.  ‘I’m just saying…I can’t guarantee that they won’t get damaged, baby’ he says, shrugging his shoulders as if it’s a matter of NO IMPORTANCE. All of this adds up to the conclusion that my parents cannot possibly be trusted to take care of my books while I gallivant around the world and resist all temptation to settle down. Plus, realistically, I can’t keep lugging around a collection of 600 odd books with me every time I move, which tends to be every 9 months or so. So what to do? I either rent a storage facility or cull. I’m starting to think it may have to be the latter.

I do a big cull of 50 or so books every time I move, and I had whittled my collection down to what I considered to be the ‘bare bones’ before I left for America, but I know full well this isn’t true. I haven’t even read a good third of them, for starters. Some books I’m hanging onto just because they are pretty, or because I know I’ll get around to them one day, or because they cost me good money and I don’t want to give them away for nothing, or because I know they’re collectable and worth something, or just because they are seminal and I think I should own a copy. In truth I only really need to possess books I love and will reread, surely. But how to choose who stays and who goes? Can I really cull my lovely antique copy of Wuthering Heights even though I know I’ll never read it again because I hate it?! What about the entirety of Zadie Smith’s oeuvre, which I’ve had for years in hardback, and have never so much as flicked through the pages of a single one? Shouldn’t I just get rid of them and borrow them from the library if the urge to read them ever does take me? What about my paperbacks of the classics – from Tolstoy to Eliot – none are particularly nice and are just there in case reading them again takes my fancy. I could easily cull them and then reintroduce nicer editions at a later date. They’re always available at the library, I suppose. What about the hardback social history books I have, that I keep mainly for the pictures, as I know I won’t read them again. Should I just get rid? And my collection of vintage Virginia Woolf novels….I only really enjoy Mrs Dalloway and keep the rest for show. Couldn’t they go to the charity shop?

Really, as long as I have my entire works of Jane Austen, my complete edition of Shakespeare (for reference purposes), Jane Eyre and Villette, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, my Mitford collection, my Dorothy Whipples, my Elizabeth von Arnims, my Margaret Atwoods, my Willa Cathers, Illyrian Spring, The Hours, Doctor Zhivago, my collection of vintage copies of all four volumes of The Diary of a Provincial Lady, my Richard Yates’, my Persephones, and a few other individual books I know I will want to hang onto for sentimental reasons, I don’t need to  own any other books unless I find another favourite author in the meantime. But there are some books I’ve bought with an eye to my future children – the Little House on the Prairie series, for example; others I have bought because they are beautifully bound, or have wonderful illustrations, and possessing them brings me great pleasure. Other books I like to have to lend out to people. Others are good to have for reference, or because I know I will want to dip in and out of them, such as short story collections and poetry anthologies. Can I so callously cast them off?! I just don’t think I could do it!

So, how do I cull a collection down to the true essentials? How do I get down to one reasonably sized, portable bookcase worth of books, without breaking my heart in the process? Suggestions please!

81 comments

  1. You are speaking to someone who has at least 3000 books in her basement- much to the chagrin of her husband. I culled hundreds of them 7 years ago when we moved into this house, but have kept purchasing more. When you say you can always check them out from the library, I find this isn’t necessarily true. Often my entire Chicago library system does not have what I am looking for. Therefore – I have no suggestions, but there are worse habits you can have!
    I spent my lunch hour today beginning William Maxwell’s “So Long, See You Tomorrow” at your suggestion.
    Beautiful writing.

    1. Oh goodness, Julie! I know I could easily have 3000 books if I had the space! Yes I have found that here actually – so many classics are NEVER available at the library or I have to wait weeks for them to get to my name on the list – it’s annoying when you want to read something instantly. When I get a house of my own I will let my collecting tendencies run wild but at this point in my life I need to accept that I can’t keep amassing possessions when I have nowhere to keep them!
      Oh fantastic! I am thrilled to read that Julie! So glad you’re loving it.

  2. What a dreadful quandary! I don’t see how you can just cast them off — I assume there may come a time when you stop all this travelling and have your own bookcases to put them all in — till then, maybe even pay for a small storage space? Let us know what you decide.

    1. I know Harriet, I know…but I do have to face facts and I need to get rid of a lot of the stuff I’m accumulated that don’t really add to my reading life. I will see how much I can take away without causing serious pain and then evaluate what I am left with and whether storage would be an option…I will keep you updated!

  3. I left books behind when i went to university, four years later I found I still wanted them. I left 3/4 of my books in storage for almost 3 years with my mother who kept saying ‘I don’t want to worry you but I think they got damp’ (they hadn’t but I got the horrors every time. I imagined that when I got them back I’d have a big clear out and get rid of a lot. I didn’t, I did start re reading things I never imagined I would.
    See how you feel about it when you get home but don’t rule out the idea of storage!

    1. Oh gosh – damp! Strikes fear into my heart!!! The problem is my mum can’t store them for much longer and I don’t really have enough books to warrant renting a storage space for them. I am going to reassess when I get home and see what I do have – being away from my books is allowing me to a bit more dispassionate but I know when I return I’ll be in raptures over all the books I have to read and I shall have to be practical and really think about what I am genuinely going to read. My big vice last year was indiscriminately buying VMCs so I reckon a lot of those can go.

  4. I whittled a library of around three thousand books to the 1100 I currently have by the following steps. 1) Separating out those books that I knew I was unlikely to read again and that I could easily obtain from the library, or very cheaply second-hand. This was mostly contemporary fiction. 2) Culling the unread books pile using the same criterion – could I easily borrow it? 3) Getting rid of books I didn’t enjoy but was keeping because they were presents, or attractive editions. 4) Thinking about what sort of library I wanted, the focus I wanted it to have, and the books that would sustain me in the future. You sound most of the way there with that one in your penultimate paragraph.

    I still have a lot of books I’ve kept for reasons of sentiment, but only if I also love the text and want to re-read it. It’s been a liberating process – I borrow a lot more books now, or get cheap second-hand copies and pass them straight to a charity shop once read, and feel much less compelled to own books, although I’ll still succumb to a lovely second-hand copy of an old favourite. But succumbing means that another book will have to go …

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

    1. Tanya, your method sounds eminently sensible and I am going to take a leaf out of your book. Something I am very guilty of is keeping books that were presents/that are attractive even though I haven’t read them/never will read them/read them and didn’t enjoy them. I think it will be quite liberating to not be surrounded by endless guilt inducing piles of unread books and I will definitely save money as well. Thank you for the encouragement!

  5. Oooh tough… I have been reading a lot of Minimalist blogs, and they have been very infectious of how nice it would be to own *less* stuff (including books). I admit, I have gone a bit overboard this Spring in purchasing books, and so have piles of books in places where they don’t need to be. (It’s not a hoarding situation, but just a clutter situation.) How can I square this want to minimalize things with the want of the TBR pile?

    Some of the blogs advise taking all the books out of the bookshelves, boxes and things, lining them up and going through them and then putting them into three piles: “Definitely Keep”, “Hmm Maybe Keep”, and “I Can Live Without These”… The third pile, of course, would be easier to get rid of; the second pile you put into a box and close that for three months. If you don’t need any book out of there in three months, then perhaps you should get rid of it. The first pile, obviously, you keep.

    i have absolutely no reason to have two bookcases stuffed to the gills with books that I haven’t even read yet (mostly), especially when I keep going to the library for more and different ones which also jump to the top of the pile due to deadlines and being ILL. So, I am going to try this three pile system for myself this weekend and see how it goes. I recognise that I probably have a lot of books that I can no longer remember why I had to have them…!

    One potential issue I see: how do I know if a book is good if I haven’t read it yet (and 90% of my book stash are not read yet)?

    I can see this will take further rumination. Let me know if you come to any bright ideas on this, and good luck with your book reduction scheme. I am aiming for one bookcase, and having the shelves NOT stuffed to the brim that I can’t jam any more books in.

    I think it would help if I stopped reading all the fabulous book blogs, but I can’t do that, can I??🙂

    liz in tx

    1. Embracing minimalism is something I often flirt with, but I am a magpie and I know it will never happen! I think that three pile method sounds absolutely excellent and will definitely help me come to a conclusion as to what to get rid of and what to keep. I am glad I’m not the only one who amasses books and then doesn’t read any of them – it’s a terrible habit and it’s quite frightening how difficult I find it to let go of them once I’ve got them!

      I think my conclusion is that I want to have a book collection that truly represents my literary tastes and at the moment it doesn’t. I have so many books that I own just because I think I should and those will be the ones that go straight away. I just want to have my truly favourite books around me. That needs to be my eventual benchmark!

  6. Living in a small studio, I can sympathize with your quandary. I love books, the design of them, the feel of them but I have no more room. So I bought a Kindle several months ago and haven’t looked back.

    1. This Kindle business certainly does sound like an intriguing solution to my storage problem….I am becoming more and more convinced that having one wouldn’t be the end of civilisation as I know it and would enable me to keep my physical book collection pure!

  7. If it helps, I will buy your vintage Woolf’s, Rachel! Then you will at least know that they are going to a loving home and an appreciative owner.

    1. Hahaha! Well I’ll let you know if I decide to sell! I have a lot of nice Hogarth Press editions as well as vintage Penguins so they are very nice.

  8. Tough problems and I sympathize! Here’s an idea: can you look at them with a thought to gift-giving? Think of your friends (the bookish ones, but also the less bookish ones who might be open to just the right book) and what they might appreciate. This can be a more comfortable half-step since you can still visit the book🙂 and it is weeding (or culling) but with a warm fuzzy feeling.

    1. Julia that’s a lovely idea – I think I will definitely do that! Little book surprise packages! I love the thought of ‘visiting’ my books!🙂

      1. Glad you like it.🙂 I have had a habit of giving away things I’d kind of like to keep to people I know will appreciate them. Visiting is the next best thing!

  9. My general rule of thumb is to only buy books I have read before and I know I will want to reread again in the future. Obviously, I deviate from this sometimes but it guides most of my buying. I also cull my collection two or three times a year, getting rid of any gifts or random purchases that I either didn’t like or know I will never try. My total personal library is under 500 volumes, a third of which are children’s books that I hold in storage.

    Thank goodness for public libraries since the use of them allows me to be so selective in what I actually keep!

    1. That’s what I have always intended to do but I buy the other way around – I buy indiscriminately, read them, and then choose from there what I want to keep which isn’t the best way to do things especially as it can take me years to get around to reading a book! You have done well and I shall try my best to follow your example. The library is definitely the way forward!

  10. Just before we moved to this much smaller house than the one we were in before, we got rid of about 3000 books (to a secondhand bookshop, who paid us an insulting amout for them.:( ) But we’ve now got much more than we had before! And really, we’ll never read or reread them all. But the offspring might… And you never know… I once got rid of an author I thought I’d never read again and then had to buy replacements from charity shops!

    However, if I DID cut down, you might not be surprised to know that my pared down collection would probably resemble yours almost exactly!🙂

    1. 3000 books!😮 But yes, secondhand bookshops are a rip off – I sold books worth at least $50 to the Strand and they gave me $10…but business is business I suppose. If I had my own house I’d be exactly the same…amass and amass and amass….but for now I have to be strict with myself!

      I love that! We could have a matching library!

  11. This post is tragic, Rachel. All my life, I have dreamed of having all my favorite library re-reads in my own house. And now I do! My collection of books is my dearest treasure. I’ve regretted giving books away; I’ve never regretted keeping them.

    However, I did feel a tiny twinge of “cull” starting when you mentioned that you don’t read all those Virginia Woolf novels. Okay. Cull the ones you’re pretty sure you won’t read. But hang on to any possible re-reads!

    1. Isn’t it Mumsy?! But I DO need to get rid a lot of the dross I have collected over the years and then I will have a library that truly represents me. One day when I have my own place I can collect indiscriminately but until then I have to learn to be restrained and selective!!

      ANY possible rereads will be staying, don’t you worry!

  12. Oh, how awful! I know it breaks your heart to feel a need to cull. I have a small home that I don’t intend to leave anytime soon, so I try to collect with an eye to leaving myself room for future growth. I don’t want to fill up what space I have too quickly.

    I try to never keep books I don’t intend to reread, the only exceptions being ones that form a set. If I’m not sure about reread after reading a book I’ve bought, I’ll put it on my shelf and see how I feel in six months or so.

    As for unread books, I think I’ve told you about my bookcase management system. I did a big cull of unread books earlier this year, mostly getting rid of books I could get from the library and books I didn’t think I’d want to keep after reading them. I got it down to a single bookcase, and now I try not to buy books unless there’s space on the bookcase. (If there isn’t space, I have to make space by reading a book from the bookcase immediately!) For the classics, having an e-reader is great. So many are available free, and space isn’t an issue. I have tons of classics on my e-reader, and I plan to only buy copies of ones that I adore.

    1. Culling is horrid but unfortunately entirely necessary from time to time. It makes me appreciate what I have more!

      I think your system sounds excellent – anything I know I won’t reread really should go. And the e reader for the classics is starting to appeal to me more and more, I have to say.

  13. Simple. Keep all the books, get rid of all your clothes. Having to read naked is a small sacrifice.

  14. I really really feel for you. After spending most of my life viewing deaccessioning as practically immoral, I had to get rid of tons of books first when I moved to Italy and then when I moved back again. I don’t know how you feel about ereaders but my kindle has freed me up to get rid of all my tatty old cheap paperbacks of classics, because they’re all there on the Project Gutenberg website for free. (Plus tons more besides, especially things by Anthony Trollope, Mrs Gaskell, etc.) I got my kindle last autumn and I now read about two thirds of my books on paper and a third on the kindle — I find it’s really not a big issue that I’m reading on a screen, but it’s such a pleasure to be able to set off for a week without worrying whether I can fit enough books in my suitcase.

    I’ve also culled all the books I really like which I can nonetheless be pretty confident of picking up in an Oxfam bookshop if I want them again, like murder mysteries and books by Terry Pratchett or Alexander McCall Smith. And now I keep track of my reading on LibraryThing, and write brief reviews for everything I finish, getting rid of a novel I’ve read doesn’t feel quite so much like getting rid of a small part of my personal history. Good luck!

    1. I am really starting to think about a Kindle. It would allow me to download loads of out of print books for free as well as classics that I then wouldn’t need to keep indefinitely on the shelves even though I may never reread them. A lot of the books I have are for snobby reasons of wanting to show that I’m well read, but if I’m honest with myself, rereading the entire works of Dickens, for example, isn’t a priority and having a load of tatty paperbacks just for show seems a bit silly. So an ereader would solve this problem.

      Yes – now I have this blog getting rid of books isn’t such a terrible thing as I do have a record of what I’ve read and if I ever want to reread something I can easily find it in a charity shop, I’m sure. I want to focus on having nice copies of my favourite books and I need to stop buying books just for the sake of it. Lesson learned!

  15. “But there are some books I’ve bought with an eye to my future children – the Little House on the Prairie series.” Apropos of nothing, I’m glad your enchantment with May Sarton’s spinster book hasn’t determined you not to have children! (That review was so infectious, I instantly ordered a copy – I had one encounter with Sarton before, a stark book about death, but you’ve inspired me to give her another try.)

    I’m moved to think about great readers who come from non-reading families…there’s an element of sadness about that, however beloved the family. I wonder how unusual it is. Most great readers I know do seem to come from reading families, but for one to spring from non-readers is interesting and makes you ponder on nature vs. nurture. About book culling, I have no earthly manner of useful advice…we have 7,000 books and like it that way, but then we’ve lived in the same place for 30 years. You, who love travel and books equally, and seem slated to remain on the wing for awhile, have a dilemma, but looking into the future I can see you someday settling down with “the last great blessing” (as Henry Crawford called marriage) of a house with with aisles and asiles of books!

    1. Absolutely not, Diana! I want a brood! I have wonderful visions of reading to my babies in the future! Glad to hear it – I hope you will love The Magnificent Spinster as much as I did!

      My mum does read and so does my sister but they’re not big readers – my sister reads more than my mum but now she has 3 kids under 5 she doesn’t get a lot of time. We never really had any books in the house when I was a child as my mum hates clutter, but my mum very much encouraged my reading and took me to the library twice a week, so even though she doesn’t read much herself she certainly appreciates the value of it and introduced me to the classics at a young age. Her granddad was a huge reader and we have his set of antique Dickens books – mum was very close to him and she said he gave her all the classics to read when she was young so perhaps that’s where I got it from.

      Oh yes – that’s the dream! A little house filled with books and babies would be bliss!

  16. While I maintain that a house without lots of books in it doesn’t feel right, the reasons you list for getting rid of some of your books makes perfect sense. Why keep something that you makes you feel guilty for not reading it, or a just okay book that you could get at the library if you ever cared to read it again? I think the best home library is made up of books you love and will reread. I also like having some reference books, though I’m sure that dates me. And I am the first to admit that I have a lot of books that belonged to my late parents that I keep for aesthetic and sentimental reasons. However, most of my books I have because I still actively love them and know I’ll reread them.

    As a rule, I want to read books, not own them. That’s the great thing about a public library! Once you have the minimum number of books you need to make a house a home, get rid of the rest. Someone else will love them, and your library will love what you do for its circulation statistics.

    1. Well I quite agree – a house without books is not a home, but a library filled with impulse buys and books for show isn’t a true library either. I want mine to be filled with just books I love and will go back to time and again, and all the others I can get from the library. SO I need to be a bit more strict with myself.

      Yes exactly – I need to get past the instinct to possess and have only the books that genuinely fill me with delight around me. The library will become my new best friend!

  17. I had this exact problem – around 1000 books and just one small flat. I would recommend getting a kindle – for years I thought ‘I’ll never get a kindle, I love paper books too much’ but actually it’s really made me concentrate and only buy books I know I want. Now if I want to read a book but I’m a bit unsure whether I’ll like it, I get it for the kindle, and then if I really love it I buy a paper copy. My bookshelves are now getting to the stage where the books I didn’t like so much are looking out of place among all the ones I love, so I find it much more aesthetically pleasing to get rid of them.
    I didn’t have the courage for one big cull, but this gradual system has really worked for me.

    1. The kindle does seem to be coming up a lot as a solution to my problem and I am increasingly thinking it may be a wise investment, as much as I hate the idea of it. I like to collect beautiful editions of my favourite books, but I end up keeping so many books that aren’t anything special for ‘just in case’ reading, when they would be just as easily accessible on an ereader and wouldn’t take up any precious room!

      Doing it gradually does make it easier. I shall do it in stages and probably try and keep a couple of boxes of books I’m not sure about getting rid of at my mum’s for a bit longer to find out whether I can really bear to part with them.

  18. To cull or not to cull, that is the question? Okay. Forgive me. We have had a frightful solstice and I’m not thinking straight. Or is it the terror of lessening the groan of the bookshelf? Ah . . .

    I kept my father’s books for 30 years in boxes in the crawl space of our other house. When they finally saw the light of day, some were yellowed and musty, a few looked like they helped mice build nests, but, the majority were healthy and now are vintage and I would not want to let them go. Like nature itself, some were naturally culled, some stood the test of time. I will admit I haven’t read them all, though.

    I do a periodic weed through, Rachel, and many go to used book shops or to friends, especially the paperback popular fiction type books. I have so many that I am not ready to let go and so many that I use for reference and I am making a more conscious effort to use the library more. That helps.

    I’m no help, I know, but, will wish you luck and just suggest you hold onto the vintage and old copies, or at least try to sell them (then you can buy more books).

    1. I can understand you keeping your father’s books, Penny – it’s a memory as well as an object. We’re allowed to hang onto things for sentimental reasons! I’m glad they survived the crawl space…I am terrified of such things happening to my books while they sit in the attic!

      I think it’s a perpetual struggle for all of us book lovers, but weeding is important. It’s not healthy to keep accumulating or to hoard and I like to pare my possessions down from time to time. It keeps me portable! Using the library is a big help, yes. And all the truly special books will stay – I’ll find room to store them somewhere if I have to. I am looking at this situation as a good excuse to help me develop a truly great library filled with carefully curated books.

  19. Keep them all. Please, please, please. You will never regret it. Maybe when your Mum’s house grows there could be a little library corner for you.

    The longer I know you, the more I like you – fellow Wuthering hater.

    I am reading Little House in the Big Woods to Anya starting tomorrow night. I found a lovely edition with the Garth Williams illustrations in color.

    1. I wish I could Ellen! I am going to weed out the books I know I really don’t need and feel no particular attachment to and then I will assess the situation when I see what is left. If there are still too many I will negotiate with my mum as to how many I can leave with her – and then take the ‘core’ that will fit in my little portable bookcase with me as I move around.

      Wuthering Heights = tosh. I don’t understand what people see in it!

      Oh how lovely Ellen! That will be such a special experience for you both!

  20. No use you asking me, I cling to my books like a clinging thing, and I can’t bear to let them go. I’m moving soon and I haven’t been able to talk myself into getting rid of anything.:/

    1. Oh Jenny! I used to be that way but my many moves have forced me to cull – cull cull cull! It is actually quite liberating when you get started…

  21. How much would you like for your antique wuthering heights? LOL. It would go to a good home!! Im the same. So many books, so little time.

    1. Free to a good home! Ha! I am going to think about setting up a little shop for them and selling them online so I’ll let you know if I decide to let go of Cathy and Heathcliff!

  22. Be Fierce Rachel! I too am inspired by by the minimalist blogs/movement and have always had a little love affair Walden style. However, I would not call a library of approximately 500 books minimal. I had it down to my bare bones before moving to England (around 300) and then, well, it grew, and upon our return I find myself with all of these lovely viragos and persephones and hardback classics in sweet little editions (And just what the hell is Wuthering Heights doing in amongst my cherished books I wonder as I also join the ranks of loathing. I even tried to re-read it again as an adult just to make sure I wasn’t missing something…I wasn’t). So I do try to be good and do a one in one out thing, but obviously it doesn’t always pan out. I have sold books online in the past and done quite well and have now started taking them to powells with some success, mainly because I can’t stand them sitting around until they sell. I think if you just keep your goal in mind of having that perfect definitive collection that really says something about yourself and not just all the junk you’ve collected or been given, you’ll realize your perfect library. And this post has just kicked me into full on culling mode again. And I know it sounds blasphemous, but I do enjoy a good cull. Emily Bronte, here I come.

    1. Yeah! Fierceness is what I need! Oh don’t we all long to be Thoreau? I know I do! I fantasise about having just enough things to fit in a little runaway suitcase…it will never happen, but the longing remains.

      Yes I have done the same here – lots of lovely editions of American classics that seem to have accumulated and now where will I put them!?! But I do want to create that definitive library and that is what I am aiming towards – I fully intend on achieving it, and to do so, I must be FIERCE and strong!

      Chuck Emily out – I have read it four times trying to find brilliance and give up!

  23. I have the same problem as you because I’m currently living at my bf’s parent’s house while I’m saving up for a deposit and I have a tiny room. I keep all my ‘read’ books in boxes at my Grandma’s house (thanks Nan) and keep unread books and a few of my favourites (Whinnie the Pooh, Jane Eyre etc.) close to hand. But the space issue is making me more discerning about what I buy and what I keep. I flog books I’m not that bothered about once I’ve read them on Amazon (at least if I get money for it, it feels easier to get rid of them) and I don’t pick up as many books on whim any more which in some ways is a bit sad! But you’re right, access to a good library makes it easier not to buy as many books. Perhaps you could pick out any you think you’d find easily again in a charity shop and cull these ones. I say hold on to Wuthers. You never know – you might revisit in a different mood and discover that you love it the second time around.

    1. At least you know there will be a permanent home soon-ish, Polly – I don’t even have that to look forward to as buying my own place seems an impossibility at the moment! If I knew I was going to settle then I could probably hold tight and convince my mum to hold onto my books for a bit longer but we both know it will be at least five years or so until I’m in a position to live anywhere with some kind of permanence and so the books have got to go!

      I think using the library for books I want to read on a regular basis and just buying copies of special books/books I’ve read and know I want to reread, will be the way forward. I am terrible for buying armfuls of books in charity shops so that’s the first habit that has to stop! I also want to sell some – amazon is a good idea, thank you!

      Oh Polly – I have read Wuthering Heights so many times, trying to find the brilliance in it…and it just does nothing for me! I am a Jane Eyre girl!

  24. I find it so hard to cull books! I have kept all my history books from my degree – even though I know the likelihood is that I will never use them again, unless I finally do a PhD, in which case maybe a quarter of them would be useful! But the represent a period of my life when I was studying and using my brain which I want to keep some evidence of! And also, some of them were quite expensive! I want to put them in my attic, but my boyfriend will not let me – he says if they can go in the attic, they can go to the charity shop! Sacrilege!

    I have recently had a bit of a cull myself – book buying ban + aim to read and get rid of lots of books in my bookshelves I had not read and didn’t think would read again. I have to say – all the ones I am getting rid of are contemporary fiction (including Zadie Smith – I say you could cull them!). I find culling my collection of Classics impossible! Also, I haven’t culled any non-fiction, partly because I found it harder to identify which of those I would want to read and then give away.

    And I agree with novelinsights – keep the Wuthering Heights! I hated it first time I read it and now is one of my favourite books!

    1. I got rid of all my English textbooks apart from the ones I actually read for pleasure like The Madwoman in the Attic as soon as I finished my degree because I knew I would have trouble parting with them later on. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t, but I know the money I sold them for came in handy and if I ever need any of them again they’re not impossible to get hold of.

      I love your boyfriend’s comment – I say that to my sister. She moved house five years ago and still has boxes she hasn’t unpacked in the attic – I said to her if you haven’t used the stuff in them for five years, you don’t need it!

      Culling contemporary fiction is definitely the way to go for me – as well as my VMC collection – most of them I don’t love. I won’t reread them so what’s the point?

      I wish I could see what others see in Wuthering Heights but I have read it so many times and each time the hatred builds!

  25. I feel for you, Rachel! I had to do the same thing in my 20s, when I was moving around a lot – halfway across the world a couple of times – and I have to say, there are definitely a few books I got rid of that I really wish I had kept. (Including 5 volumes of the diaries of Virginia Woolf. I have since tracked down new copies!) Mind you, my parents were much more understanding than yours, and let me keep an entire bookshelf (about 200 books) at their house for over 10 years, so I didn’t have to cull quite as ruthlessly as your “portable bookcase” suggests! I used to use the secondhand bookshop a lot while I lived overseas, for both buying and selling – there wasn’t really much of a library where I lived – but if you are able to make use of one of those and/or a library, you should probably be able to get hold of a good range of things to read. Good luck with your decision-making!

    1. Oh gosh! All 5 volumes?! That is a sad thing to have had to cull. But you know the predicament – you just can’t hang onto everything, can you? Yes I will always have access to libraries and book shops so it’s not as if I will never be able to get hold of books, but part of me really likes the idea of a portable bookcase of perhaps just 100 volumes that I can transport with me fairly easily – I am not anticipating any more overseas moves for the present – and then when I actually put down roots I can replace any books I culled and actually miss. Thank you – I will keep you all updated!

  26. I was completely unable to get rid of books at all, no matter how dreadful, until I started reviewing them. Now that I have a record of them as part of my reading life I find it’s much less of a wrench to get rid of those that are less than spectacular. I still hang on to Persephone and Virago titles regardless of how much I enjoy them as I have a terrible compulsion to complete sets of books once I start (a very long term project with Virago, I feel). Unread books are another exception – I can’t get rid of a book which might become a new favourite, even if it’s been languishing on my shelves for years.

    I am trying to weed out my book collection as I’m moving house soon and the thought of having to load all those books into my tiny car and then carry them up to our new first floor flat fills me with dread. The need isn’t as pressing as it could be though, as my fiance and I have deliberately chosen a two bed flat so that we can have a library/study. Who needs a second bedroom?

    Good luck with your culling endavours.

    1. Yes – I was the same until I started blogging. Now I have an online record of what I’ve read, I don’t need to keep books to remind me of what I’ve read, and I’m far more willing to use the library, as I haven’t effectively lost my reading history by not possessing the books I’ve read. I can get rid of unread books if I know I can get them from the library and they’re just paperbacks, and I am also increasingly willing to get rid of VMCs I read and didn’t love. Persephones are more of a wrench as they are so expensive to start off with, but I think even those I will have to cull as I do have a small amount I know I won’t read again and there’s no point keeping them just for the sake of it.

      Good for you having a library! Guests can sleep on the sofa!

  27. Dear Rachel. My children determined that I didn’t ‘need’ all my books and in a moment of weakness I gave a huge number of books to someone who took them to her cottage where they languish, unloved, unread, unvalued. Rachel, your books could have a similar fate. I am now fevourishly replenishing my collection; you will to…Don’t cull!

    1. Oh Dawn how awful! What a dreadful experience! Such conflicting advice…I am going to VERY selectively cull, don’t worry – anything that means something to me will be staying!

  28. Oh good luck Rachel! I have no advice to offer – not only do I have a book problem where I live now, but I have meanly taken advantage of my parents and their attic for lo these 15 years. To the point when I don’t really know what books I own any more. I seriously need to cull too, so will watch your progress with interest. Of course, I have such marvellous taste that I don’t have many books that I can’t be sure I won’t reread (and when I go through them I always get excited about them again, which makes things hard). Heh.

    I read the review of some research once which found that people ascribe more value to the things they have than new things – we’re hardwired to love our possessions and feel pain on parting with them. For this reason I now try to be really discriminate in what I let into the house. I can’t now find the name of the commenter who says s/he also does this and it’s good but also a little sad, no youthful recklessness for me any more.

    Also felt a twinge when you mentioned the Woolfs. Rachel, not a Woolf fan – can we still be friends? On the other hand, if you have nice copies of Night and Day or The Waves looking for a good home, I’d be interested in adding to my book overload problem.

    Let us know how you get on. Or as Leticia says, go naked.

    1. It’s tough, isn’t it? You’re lucky that your parents are so accommodating! My mum is a very minimalist sort of person and she HATES how my old bedroom is filled with piles of books so I have to be respectful of that…perhaps a couple of boxes could be found a spot for but more than that and her patience will soon wear thin. I want to be the one doing the culling rather than have it done for me! I can be quite ruthless and dispassionate when I set my mind to it so I will see how I manage when I get back.

      We can of course still be friends! I appreciate Woolf more than I love her. I may indeed…you could find yourself in receipt of a nice parcel one day soon!

      Hahaha! Not an option!

      1. I realise now my original comment was a bit grabby, it wasn’t meant to be! I would send you money if you did decide you wanted to rehome some of your Woolfs, I just like the idea of them coming from someone I ‘know’. I’ve been away for a bit and notice that you’ve opened up a shop, which is a brilliant idea. Hope it goes well, and the cull too.

        My partner frequently threatens book burnings, so I know how you feel about other people doing the culling for you – awful!

        (I’m at my parents’ house and inspired by you about to have a little practice cull.)

      2. Not at all Helen! I was pleased to see such enthusiasm and willingness to take my cast offs!!🙂 Thanks – it’s going well so far – I won’t be coming back to the UK with nearly as many books as I’d feared which is excellent news! Hope your practice cull went well – setting up a shop and making money out of the books you’re culling makes it a much softer blow, I have to say!

  29. I feel your pain. Having moved to and from the US twice, I have had this challenge though perhaps I tried to limit what I bought (to some degree – I did buy a lot of Viragos I recollect on my first trip). We were fortunate that my husband’s company paid for freight so in the end I only got rid of a small number of popular/ephemeral books. We had left the majority of our books in storage at home so it was lovely to return to them.

    None of that provides you with a solution but I’m starting to think I should move towards eBooks … it will come I think as one day I will be downsizing too and will have to be savage.

    1. If only I could ship my books around with me, I wouldn’t have this problem! Lucky you!

      Ebooks are the way forward I think…and blogging is great for keeping a record of everything I’ve read, removing the need to keep books just for memory’s sake.

  30. I can’t give you any suggestions in terms of culling what you currently have, only a suggestion in avoiding acquiring more–and that would be, don’t buy anymore books for a while. (Yeah, right, that sounds so easy–like, eat less and exercise more and you’ll lose weight, but it never happens–ha-ha!) In 2010, my husband and I realized that we had been paying $100 a month for almost five years for a storage unit filled primarily with boxes of books. I made two pledges: Clean out the storage unit and buy no books at all for the year. In addition to the storage unit books, I already had a tbr of over 300 books (stacked against the wall in my den). I was able to live up to both pledges (although it was hard, so hard, not to attend the Friends of the Library book sales). I did a preliminary cull with the storage unit books, donating a lot of them to the aforementioned Friends of the Library and many children’s books to a local church nursery & preschool. We still have at least 25 boxes of books from the unit stacked in our garage, but I don’t feel ready to attack it yet. At least we’re saving the $100 a month we were spending for the storage unit.

    1. So you didn’t buy any more books for a YEAR?! Good for you. I tried that and lasted about 9 months I think. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be actually – I will definitely do my best to re-implement that rule when I get home as it really is the only way to keep things reasonable once I have got rid of the initial excess.

      Glad you have had such success with your mission – it’s heartening that it can be done!

  31. One day while Roman and I were out driving he said out of the blue “If you die before me I am going to have a stamp made that says ‘This book brought joy to my beautiful wife’ and pass them around to friends”. I started to well up!

    There are all kinds of storage solutions made to fit under beds. That way you can rotate your collection or retrieve a book if the fancy strikes. You own so many really special books, not the sort that go cheaply on tables in a bookstore, hold on to them if you can.

    1. Oh Darlene! That’s so beautiful! I welled up! What a lovely husband you have and no surprise either as he has such a lovely wife!

      Yes – I have a couple of under bed boxes filled with books and they will come in handy should I – which is likely – not be able to whittle down to one bookcase. I am going to hang on to all the beautiful, special editions I have but everything else…I fear the charity shop will have to have them! It’s hard but something’s gotta give! I will console myself by thinking of all the lovely books I can buy when I get that dream house avec library one distant day in the future!

  32. It’s why I opened a shop, it ensures I buy, but I also sell. But some are dearer to me than family! Obviously extended family…

  33. It is now late so no time this evening to read all the comments, but I’d say you are a triumph over upbringing! How can your mother even think of discarding your books! Weeding is difficult; the book lover in me wants to keep everything, the one-time helper-out in an antiquarian/2nd hand bookshop says you have to weed periodically, space is finite. I do understand your predicament being a book lover/buyer myself and have thousands – and I mean thousands – of them.

    1. I know, bless her, but she hates clutter and it is her house so I have to respect that! Yes exactly – space is finite and inevitably less desirable/loved books do end up cluttering shelves that could be better used. I am going to be very ruthless when I get home and be honest with myself about what I am going to realistically reread and hopefully this will help me to get the collection down to a manageable size for a permanently on the move person!

  34. I doubt the culling will ever work. Cant you box and ship the lot to wherever you go. When I came
    back from Melbourne to Colombo I sent two boxes of books back. Those were the loved ones which I could not let go. I have just moved house and moved all the books first – fortunately entire family very supportive. They think I am eccentric but they still support their mad Mum.

    1. Oh Mystica! It HAS to work unfortunately – I have so many books that shipping them would cost me a small fortune every time – I just have to accept that I have too many for a person with no permanent address!

  35. Hi, I’ve just had a thought about this, but it might be a longshot. My mother, who really regrets now how much she encouraged me to read as a child, is a total star, and bought me for my birthday a little shed. It’s only small so we put it up inside their garage, but I realise we were very lucky to be able to do that. It was a total hassle to put together, but now all my boxes of can’t-bear-to-get-rid-of books live inside it, awaiting the day when I get a proper place to live. Because they’re in a shed inside a garage they’re just in cardboard boxes, but if the shed were outside maybe you could wrap the boxes in plastic or something, or buy plastic boxes. Anyway, it’s just a thought in case your mum has a little corner of garden she’d lend you. Also, it might not be any cheaper than hiring a storage place. But I can’t wait to unpack them one day. I’ve done so much culling that I know every volume in those boxes is something I really love.

    Also, I wanted to say something about culling and regrets. I really regret getting rid of my 6-volume little Everyman classic hardbacks of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall — it was a punishment to myself for not getting past the 1st volume — but I also feel that taking the risk of regretting things is part of life. Everyone has some scars. And it’s a good thing to have the courage to risk regrets. I’m more often surprised by what I don’t regret than what I do.

    1. That’sa good thought actually. My mum does have a summer house and my dad got me a load of plastic lockable boxes for my stuff before I left as he knew the work they’re doing on the house would cause a lot of dust to be produced (they do care really!) and so storing boxes of books in the summer house could be an option if it’s weatherproof. I actually spoke to my mum the other day and she said I can still leave stuff in the attic so we’ll see what happens!

      I think you do need to learn to be able to let go of material things in this life- we can’t hang on to things forever and really, it’s just stuff. It’s not the end of the world to regret having given a book away, and I always think – it can usually be replaced anyway.

  36. The first half of this post was hilarious, and the second half wa TERRIFYING. Don’t do it, Rachel! I figure that you’ll never regret the books you keep…

    But I do have eight bookcases at my parents’ house, as well as three in Oxford… and books all over the floor. At some point I’ll probably have to cull too. I continually forget what I own…

    My family aren’t nearly as acquisitive as I am, when it comes to books, but they look on my obsession with fond amusement, rather than worry or crossness, and Mum regularly uses my bedroom at home as her own lending library.

    1. Oh Simon! I wish I didn’t have to but I REALLY need to. I can’t face having my books in boxes for years and keep lugging boxes and boxes around with me everywhere I go – I want to have just enough books to fit in one bookcase and be able to move from flat to flat and have them all out and around me. I know this probably won’t happen and I’ll need to leave a few boxes at my mum’s but I AM out of control with my book acquisition for someone with no home of her own and I need to learn to be more dispassionate about the books I do possess.

      You should see my mum’s face when I come in the door with books under my arms…she doesn’t mind new books but she hates the smell of old ones! I have got her to read some of my books now though so that’s a good development!

  37. It’s only by looking very hard at each book and being ruthless that you’ll be able to make a decision. How I agree about so many things you’ve said – and I laughed like anything about hating Wuthering Heights – me too but I’ve kept my copy! Also on my book shelves (about 1500 books) are a lot of mistakes and they are what cause me the most pain.

    Does your Mum read your blog? Will she mind you being so, er – plain-speaking about her?

    1. That’s very true Chrissy – if I bought it years ago and haven’t even opened it then it has to go, regardless of how lovely it is! Maybe you could have a cull along with me, Chrissy?! Worth a try!

      No she doesn’t, and she woudn’t mind – she knows I ADORE her but we just don’t see eye to eye on my book collection! She has been very good about keeping them dusted and stuff since I’ve been gone too so I am very grateful really!

  38. I had to make sure that I was reading YOUR post when I saw that you hated Wuthering Heights. How COULD you??????? I have shared your love and enthusiasm for just about every book you have reviewed—I thought we were kindred spirits!!!! Once again, I’m back to thinking no one thinks the way I do……but that’s probably a very good thing!!! As far as what to do about your many books…KEEP every one. When you get old and are sitting by the fireside, you will want to pull them down around you. I keep all of mine–and I am always on the search for young readers to whom I can leave them when I am gone.

  39. Hi!
    You can’t imagine just how much empathy I feel… I am also a book lover and, to make matters worse, a linguist and a chef. It does make matters worse because I won’t ever get rid of my cookery books (as I am constantly using them for reference). I also had to move out many times. The way I found to keep some control of my ever-growing library (especially if I want to keep on buying books) is to read the fiction ones and then ask myself truly and honestly: Will I ever read it again? Is it that good? Is it worth my dragging it along every single time I move? Can I not get it in another format? (googling for PDF e-books is a great way of still having your book and get rid of your hardback without a guilty conscience), Is it a book I need to refer to? (i.e. a cookery book), Will I not be able to get it at a later date since it’s constantly being re-printed? Is it really worth the money I will have to spend to keep it in storage? If the answer is “no”, then I read it and then I pass it along. Mind you, even doing that I still have a lot of books!
    I hope it has helped!!!

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