A Tour of My Bookshelves

Well, it’s been all go around here this weekend! As is traditional of British Bank Holiday weekends, the weather has been largely miserable and I have been busy doing DIY. I may not look up to much, but I am the Queen of Flat Pack Furniture Assembly. There is nothing I can’t put together – just give me an allen key and I am away! I love the sense of achievement when I stand back, exhausted, and take stock of what I have built. ALL BY MYSELF! I was so excited when I moved back in with my mum, as I finally have the space to put up bookshelves and bring all of my books down from the loft where they have been gathering dust for years. Last week I bought three bookcases from IKEA, and I put them up this weekend. I had already decided to set myself a challenge; I was only allowed to keep as many books as fitted on my shelves – no more boxes in the loft, and no more piles on the floor. I thought this would be fairly easy, as there seemed to be so much shelf space when they were standing there empty, covered only in my blood, sweat and tears. However, after lugging a good twenty boxes down from the loft, and becoming surrounded by a sea of books, I realised just what a task I had before me. There were enough books to fit about six bookcases, and so I was going to have to half my collection!!! A momentary panic threatened to overwhelm me before I pulled myself together, collected some carrier bags, and got ruthless. If I didn’t love it, and either had no plans to read it any time soon or didn’t plan on reading it again, it had to go. I filled six bags with books and went to the charity shop to drop them off immediately after sorting them so that I had no time for remorse to set in (some of the more special ones I have put up for sale on my etsy shop – check them out!). It was tough, but I have to say, I feel so much lighter knowing that I am no longer responsible for so much baggage. I now only own books I genuinely love and/or really want to read and will get to very soon, and there are no more guilt inducing piles of books ‘to be read’. I am free! And I have really lovely neat and tidy bookshelves!

I have a small bookcase in my room with my favourite books; Austens, Whipples, some Elizabeth von Arnim, Bowens, Woolfs, children’s classics, and some favourite reference books. In the spare bedroom next door, I have two big bookcases that are separated into middlebrow books and literary reference books and then general reference, classics, modern favourites and children’s/young adult books (mainly Harry Potter!). It’s a bit of an eclectic system but it makes sense to me and I love that I can now have access to my books whenever I want. Bliss!

It was both enjoyable and interesting going through my books, some of which I haven’t seen for years and totally forgot I had. I found loads of books that I was surprised I’d kept, and they were easy to give away. Others were delightful discoveries; I forgot, for example, that I had a first edition of one of my favourite children’s books, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. It’s so beautiful! I was quite disappointed that I hadn’t kept any of my university books, and I couldn’t believe that I have virtually no copies of the classics – this is probably because I borrowed them from the library when I read them as a teenager and never bought my own. I need to redress that, but not until I have my own permanent house and can build some bookshelves. For now it will be a one in-one out policy; and I mean it this time!!

Here they are in all their glory!! Lovely, lovely books:


  1. Nice. So neat, so tidy! Here the style is tottering piles…

    I would love to spend some time sneaking things off your shelves – what teasing photos these are! Lots of good stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Oh, what strength you have to clear away so many books. I can occasionally get rid of a few, but I have never been able to get rid of so many at one time. Every auction, yard sale, thrift shop has me looking for more all of the time. How wonderful to run across your old favorite and one of mine, The Little Princess.

    1. If I am in the right mood, I can get rid of anything. I hate clutter and regularly purge myself of possessions so I am used to making tough decisions – but I still can’t resist a bargain either so I have to be careful! Yes that was lovely – glad it is a favourite of yours too!

  3. I have gone through the pain of downsizing. I have given away so many books, many of which I have regretted (or at least some). How long do you think it will be before you start buying again some of the books you just got rid of? ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hehehehe – no regrets here! I’m sad you regret yours though. I will probably end up re-buying some in the distant future but right now I just feel euphoric that I have got rid of so many books that were making me feel guilty!

  4. Getting rid of that many books is brave! I currently have probably about as many boxes in storage. I made a promise though, to read them before I discarded or kept them so it’s been a slow process but I find that I borrow more books from the library instead of buying them so I don’t accumulate a larger tbr pile.

    1. I had to be strong – and I’m glad I was! Otherwise I’d never be able to let go of anything! That sounds like a good plan – but I would have ended up having books in storage forever if I had done that! So many unread books!

  5. I admire your determination and resolve, Rachel, and love seeing all of your books, released from the captivity of those boxes. A first edition of The Little Princess is a treasure, indeed. I need to part with some books myself these day.

    Maybe tomorrow. tee hee

    1. Thanks Penny – it’s been liberating and I love having my books out to be admired! Hehehehe – don’t leave it, Penny! Get yourself in the right mood then purge, purge, purge!

  6. I think doubling books on a shelf can also be acceptable in certain circumstances. But, it is also good to have a good clean out. I was surprised to see your Persephone High Wages for sale, but then I saw the original edition you have. How cool. I would love to get my hands on Young Anne. Based on the spine, I think your copy of The Beauty of Britain might be somehow associated with my recent purchase of Old Public Schools of England, the cover of which you can see in a picture toward the bottom of a recent post of mine. http://myporchblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-perfect-day-in-maine.html

    1. I hate doubling, Thomas, because I like to see everything at a glance. So I knew it all had to go – and it does feel good! Yes, oh yes – I wouldn’t get rid of a Whipple unless I’d replaced it with a ‘better’ edition – I like to get the old ones where I can. Young Anne was a bargain 99p find – it’s ok but not great and I wouldn’t spend a fortune on it. Yes it is – it’s a Batsford book. There’s a whole series – be careful because you could get addicted to collecting them!

  7. Beautiful. I’m about to tackle a book-shelf-building, book-cataloging, book-rearranging project myself. I don’t know if I’m willing yet to turn it into a book-weeding project. But at least I can get rid of my duplicates.

    1. Getting rid of duplicates is a start, Donna! While you’re cataloguing you might find yourself reevaluating what you have. I certainly did – I only wanted books I genuinely loved on my shelves – and that made it a lot easier to weed them out!

  8. I give you so much credit, Rachel, for being so determined (and courageous!) able to part with so many books! Six bags’ worth is a lot. i’m sure the charity shop loved you for doing that, though, as will all the countless of people coming into the charity shop to find all those treasures you’ve donated. I’ve gone through the pain and challenge of having no choice but to part with many, many books when we first moved to Ireland from New York. So many books (and CDs and records and DVDs) that I knew just could not come with me. Like you expressed so perfectly (as you always do), I too had to be ruthless and just have at it, with the thought in the back of my mind that, if I truly, truly, sincerely missed any of those books that I was now being forced into giving up/giving away, I could always (hopefully) find them again, in time. Or that I’d know, in my heart, within an instant, that a book deemed for the ‘has to go’can’t come with me’ pile was either the right or the wrong decision in each case.

    Over the years, there’ve only been a few bad choices I made all those years ago – giving them up/giving them away (among them, a couple of May Sartons, a hardback of ‘Ulysses’, a library book find of ‘My Brother’s Keeper,’ by James Joyce’s brother (I’ve regretted that ever since I gave it away, and have never been able to locate another copy of it anywhere, sadly), a hardback copy of ‘On the Road’ and ‘Call of the Wild,’ and a biography on Allen Ginsberg.

    But my goodness – you’ve still got so many wonderful treasures with you. And I am in absolute awe of your DIY skills. The IKEA bookshelves look so happy to have all those beauties sitting on their new homes. Well done and fair dues – you definitely are the Queen of Flat Pack Furniture extraodinaire! I too would be very proud and well pleased with myself for having put together all those bookcases, too. So…when can you come over to my place and put up some bookcases and shelving in my craft room (aka, our dining room)?

    I loved seeing all your books, in all their glory, Rachel. I felt the same way as I do whenever I go into a bookshop (especially a second-hand one) – all those glorious, wonderul, beautiful books, books and more books. Bliss! And now, all you need to do is sit back and enjoy.

    1. Thanks June! I’m sorry you ave regrets about books you had to let go – but at the end of the day, very few things are truly irreplaceable and they are just THINGS – that’s what I kept telling myself. The world would not end if I gave away a book I later decided I wanted. And I don’t feel too worried about the ones I gave away – I am excited that they’ll have new homes and give pleasure to other people!

      Hehehehe – I am available for hire any time! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I can’t help but notice you have a lot of hardbacks there – I don’t buy and rarely keep hardback fiction because it takes up so much more space than paperback. If you get really stuck for space it may be worth swapping formats. Hope it isn’t entirely iconoclastic to suggest that…

    1. I know – I hate paperbacks!! I try and avoid buying them, actually! I totally understand the justification of them and yes they do take up less space but I find them aesthetically less pleasing than hardbacks…no idea why!

  10. “and I mean it this time!!”

    Yeah, yeah, yeah……

    Oh, R. I’d like to sit in a wicker chair with a pot of Darjeeling, a little plate of choice Scottish shortbread, and say “more tea, R?” as I browse your books and quiz you about them.

    Bird song outside, dappled sunlight…….OK Bop, stop it.


    – Bop.

    1. Oi you, I am genuinely sticking to my guns this time! No more books!

      Wouldn’t that be fun? Though my life is not that idyllic. Sadly no wicker chairs here. And it’s Traditional Afternoon, not Darjeeling. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Lovely pictures and well done with culling, me I only managed 6 books but small steps. I probably need more bookshelves, but piles of books look so artful, and they keep arriving so the piles are constantly changing.

    1. Thank you, Jo! I feel quite proud of myself, I have to admit! Well if it works for you, it works for you! I am anal and like neatness so the piles have to go – it’s such a weight off my mind!

  12. It looks lovely. I was interested to see at least some of your Laura Ingalls Wilder books were very old, w/Helen Boylston illustrations. I live about 70 miles from DeSmet, SD.

    1. Thanks Joelie! Yes, I collected the whole set of the original Boylston books when I lived in the US last year. I would LOVE to go and see the house – you are so lucky to live not so far away!

  13. What a lovely way to spend a bank holiday! Last time I had a clear-out (a promise to my husband) I spent an entire day rearranging shelves and managed to discard seven books for the charity shop! No willpower, you see.
    I love it that you have so many hardbacks. I have a new rule – books I intend keeping I buy in hardback. I keep some paperbacks and those that are really once only reads I buy on kindle (and if I really love it I buy in hardback!). Any excuse, to buy more books!

    1. Only seven books, Debbie?! You need me to come round!!
      Thank you – I love hardbacks and replace paperbacks with hardbacks whenever I can. It’s one of my book policies – if I love it I get it in hardback, as it keeps better. I HATE creased spines!

  14. Well done for downsizing your collection. I did something similar when we downsized our home, very painful.
    What strikes me about your collection is its similarity to mine, a mix of old and new. I see many duplicates of mine there, and many more I feel drawn to add, but do not have the space. I too am being ruthless now when acquiring new books, and the local charity shops are benefitting!
    I really enjoy reading your blog, thank you.

    1. Thank you Lizzie – painful but unfortunately necessary!
      We must have identical book tastes! I love looking through other people’s bookshelves and spotting the same books or others I’d like to have. I’d love to see yours now!
      Thank you – I’m so glad to hear that! ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Well Done! I was envious not only traipsing around Ikea – but sorting and arranging books too! What a lovely weekend you had! Stunning book collection by the way!

  16. You are brave I would have found it very difficult to get rid of any of my books – even the ones I don’t really like! I bet you feel good though.

  17. Gorgeous shelves! Loved getting a glimpse of your books – a great collection! Am very impressed by your assembly skills – I’ve just ordered two flat-pack wardrobes – any chance I could reserve your awe-inspiring talent with an allen key (what is that?!)??!! I can promise wine and food and eternal gratitude in return ๐Ÿ˜‰ xxx

    1. Thanks Miranda! ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh dear, oh dear – if you can’t even tell what an allen key is, you definitely need some help! I’ll be there! ๐Ÿ™‚ xx

  18. Well done on your ruthlessness! I’m glad to see Miss Hargreaves made the cut ๐Ÿ˜‰ I was feeling good that I’d got rid of about 50 this week, but I couldn’t halve my collection.

    Always lovely to see other people’s bookshelves, thanks for posting them!

    1. It’s only hanging in there because you are so enthusiastic about it – I feel I owe it to you to read it! ๐Ÿ™‚

      50 is very good Simon. Not everyone can be as callous as me!!

      You are welcome! I love having a nosy at other people’s bookshelves so I was glad to return the favour!

      1. Gosh, it sounds like Miss H was almost out on her ear!
        This reminds me – did Passionate Kensington make the cut? I’d love to borrow it sometime, if it did…

      2. Sorry Simon, it didn’t make the cut! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I gave it to a good home though, don’t worry! That one didn’t go to the charity shop!

      3. Aw, shame, I should have said that I’d love it if you ever decided to get rid of it! At least it went to a good home ๐Ÿ™‚ After I mentioned it on my blog, all the affordable copies went from Amazon etc., so my plan of buying a copy for myself was foiled. Oh well!

  19. I noticed a book called “The Thirties”. Do you recommend it? Who is the author? Is it secondary literature concerning the English novel of that period?

    1. Lis, I haven’t yet read it I’m afraid! It’s a social history book, about Britain in the Thirties – not about literature. It’s by Juliet Gardiner and I very much like her work. I recommend getting it from the library if you’re curious – it’s a huge volume and I just haven’t had time to tackle it yet!

  20. Like Lis, I noticed that Juliet Gardiner’s The Thirties escaped the cull. You may recall that the book’s cover is a photo of a couple on a date in a Lyons Corner House. It also happens that this very picture (by Wolfgang Suschitzky) appears in an exhibition currently on at Tate Britain: ‘Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930-1980’.

    I won’t post the link to his review but Richard Dorment (Daily Telegraph 30.07.12) writes

    ‘Things are not going well. She looks steadily at him, her face a mask of indifference. It takes a minute or two to notice that since his hands are not on the table one of them has probably strayed to her knee. And this in turn gives a whole new meaning to the pronounced arches of her pencilled-in eyebrows.’

    Oh, dear โ€ฆ !

  21. I am so thrilled for you, Rachel! Every time I would read that you had such and such a book packed away at your Mum’s I felt a bit sad for you, but now look! You must have had a fabulous time ‘playing’ with your treasures, it’s one of my favourite things to do when no one is around to pester me.
    And while you’re here…Villette…oui ou non? I would love to read it sometime during the autumn or winter. Still thinking about a group read-along at some point? because if you are then I will most definitely wait!

    1. Thanks Darlene! Oh I did, I did – it was so much fun sorting them and putting them all out on the shelves…only book lovers understand the joy!

      ABSOLUTELY – yes. I just watched Jane Eyre tonight and am hankering for some Bronte. I think perhaps October…late October/early November? It’s the perfect novel for dark evenings that smell of bonfires!

  22. Hah, I am right there with you on the joys of flat-pack furniture assembly. Such a sense of accomplishment! Particularly as the man about my house is hopeless at all things DIY. But it surely must pale in comparison to the feeling you got on chucking all those books out, congratulations, you are an inspiration!

    1. Thanks Marie! It’s a hard task but one that brings great rewards!! I hope I can inspire others to let go of a few possessions…it’s so liberating!

  23. I do need to take a leaf from your book and learn how to downsize. I just can’t bring myself to do it ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      1. This is going to happen sooner than I like. My husband and I have to move in a week or so so the sifting has begun

  24. Your book shelves look wonderful! I think we have many of the same books, except I am managing to cull by putting the early editions into the care of the university library collection. In a way they are harder to let go of because the early editions are so much more desirable, but I know they are going to a good home! (Except my Elizabeth von Arnim’s. I’m keeping them.)

    1. Thanks Erica – how good of you to donate your early editions to the library – my early ones are the books I treasure the most and couldn’t bear to give away! The Elizabeth von Arnims are definitely keepers – I nearly gave two away and at the last minute rescued them from the charity bag – I might have five unread von Arnims but I know they’ll all be treasures!

  25. I remember visiting friends’ homes, unlike mine which was filled with books -even in the bathroom, and wondering why they hid their books. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to live in a house and not be surrounded by books.

  26. It’s a pity you had to get rid of so many books. Couldn’t you have put them all up on your sales page? Maybe some of us would have liked to get them! I am having a very similar problem with my books. No more bookshelves’ space. But I am not thinking if getting rid of any! I might try to sell one or two on amazon, probably with little success, but the majority are staying with me. So I am starting to have to think of doing things like storing them in wardrobes. I like to keep them all in sight, but if they have to stay in wardrobes they’ll stay in wardrobes, I just won’t get rid of any! Advice: what about getting a Kindle? I have thought of that as well but I still happen not to be fully convinced…

    1. I know! Oh most of the ones I gave away wouldn’t have been of much interest or value – not worth putting up for sale! I think some people definitely can’t be parted with their books, but I don’t mind letting go of things that don’t really mean anything to me. If I won’t read something again I don’t see the point of owning it – it just takes up space I don’t have. I want my library to reflect what I love, not just what I’ve read. So culling doesn’t massively bother me! No, Kindles aren’t really for me…if I am not that bothered about owning a certain book, I’ll just borrow it from the library!

      1. I do have a kindle, I still buy a lot of books. The kindle is handy for 2 things. Book club books that I am unlikely to ever read again, and old books that I cannot afford to buy but love to read. Gene Stratton Porter etc. They are often free or cheap on the kindle. My kindle was free because I had so many amazon points. Now I gave that one to my husband and I now have a kindle fire also free with amazon points. With the fire I can access the internet which is helpful. I also downloaded seasons one and two of Downton Abbey.

  27. I love Billys too – but am ashamed to say mine are all double stacked – those deep shelves …. Well done you for having the courage to cull your books and only single stack. I’m mid-cull at the moment and have sorted out about 200 to go, but must do more.

  28. I am so impressed (both at your assembley-skills and your ruthlessness). I really need to have a cull but……
    I’m trying – I have reached the point of being able to let go of certain books as soon as I finish them, which I suppose is a start
    The trouble is my library (sounds more impressive than it is!) is a personal history. There are some books I will never read again and are embarrassing to admit
    to having read (a lot of pseudo-science in my teens) but still – they are part of me.
    Maybe I need someone like you to come and give me a hand (DB would be pleased!)
    Then I could tackle the CDs which have also got out of hand – any takers for 50 Banjo Favourites?!

  29. We have the exact same white Billy bookcases!! We have five of those in our living room, but I share them with my three children’s books and hubby’s cookbooks, though I use up most of it, obviously heheh.

    I loved looking through each of the titles on your shelves. You kept The Children’s Book! Do you mean to read it again? You have “A Homemade Life”.. is it all recipes or are there other things in it as well?

    I purge often and sometimes in hindsight regret giving other titles away, but for the most part feel relieved everytime I let go of books I know I’ll never want to read again and those I never really liked all that much. I remember someone saying, “Surround yourself only with things you love.” I keep the same rule with books.

    1. Hi Claire, it’s so lovely to hear from you! You’ve got to love a billy, haven’t you? Bookcase of the masses!

      The Children’s Book I have kept because the book itself was a birthday gift from a dear friend and I can’t give it away for that reason. Plus I think if I come back to it in future I’ll love it. I’m willing to give it another chance one day! A Homemade Life is essays and recipes – I love it. If you like the Orangette blog, then you’ll really enjoy it.

      Since my big cull I’ve had a couple of fleeting regrets but nothing major – I felt mainly relief and I’m glad I now have a manageable collection that doesn’t make me feel overwhelmed or guilty. I quite agree with you on the surrounding yourself only with things you love maxim – if I’m never going to read it again then why keep it?

  30. Interesting. Bookshelves are not difficult to build. You just buy 6in floorboard and saw to fit.
    If you have an alcove you just put in two uprights with small wooden slats every 9in , cut the
    shelves to fit and tap them in (no nails, no glue needed)
    So far, 8,000 books, still happy.
    Chuck some out? Hell no, they can do that when I die.

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