A Little Light Weeding: The perennial problem of the over crowded bookshelf

Cover image My friend, M, came to tea yesterday and took away her annual haul for the breast cancer fund-raiser she’s involved in. She usually warns me a few months in advance so that I can pull some books of the shelves to donate. I haven’t been as methodical as I usually am, just the odd shelf now and then when I’ve caught sight of a book and wondered why on earth I’ve kept it for so long. It wouldn’t be on the shelves if I hadn’t enjoyed it at some stage so I feel I can hand it over with a clean conscience. And I’ve finally finished 33 Revolutions per Minute which I began back in June. Good as it was, I won’t be wading through that again.

So what keeps a Cover image book on my shelves? Well, I say ‘my’ but they’re H’s as well, of course. I always ask before weeding out one of his books although I itch to shove a few in the bag because they don’t seem to me to be earning their space. Sometimes the choice is easy, sometimes not so. Usually I keep a book because I’m convinced I’ll read it again, but occasionally it’s for sentimental reasons or an irritating completist tendency common to booksellers (and ex-booksellers so it seems) as Andy Miller mentions in The Year of Reading Dangerously. Thanks to him I’ve finally ditched all my Iris Murdochs. One book guaranteed not to be added to M’s pile is What I Loved, long treasured and I’m sure it will remain so. When she drives off with her car packed with bags it’s always a satisfying feeling: more space for the other books and I’ve proved that I can do it. I’m not the only one clearing the decks – Lizzi over at These Little Words has had it made quite clear that a few trips to the charity shop would be appreciated. What about you? Do you go in for regular pruning, and if so how do you decide what stays and what goes?

24 thoughts on “A Little Light Weeding: The perennial problem of the over crowded bookshelf”

  1. I’ve begun to realise that I may have a problem with parting from books.

    My fiancé recently suggested that we clear the books neither of us particularly like, such as Cloud Atlas, The Book of Dave and about three Murakami novels. I found myself feeling quite unwell and it led to an uncharacteristic argument. If loved books are like friends then less loved novels must be like those family members you see every Christmas and tolerate in bursts throughout the year. They have their place around the dinner table just as David Mitchell and Will Self have a place on the bookshelf.

    A fair justification or am I just a hoarder? I know what my fiancé would say 🙂

    1. I like your analogy, Nicola! It seems likely that I might have sat down with Iris Murdoch and had a good old barney, then. Book of Dave is one of H’s that I itch to weed but he likes it so it stays. Here’s to many happy years contemplating those crowded bookshelves for you and your fiancé.

      1. Haha, I wish I had Iris Murdoch’s intellect! 🙂 The Book of Dave and, if I’m honest, Will Self, leave me cold. Well done on the blog, it’s really interesting. 🙂

  2. I’m mid-mega-prune and starting to see that soon I will have no piles on the floor or double stacking of the shelves if I keep going at this rate – I have taken ten big bags full to the charity shop and have another two ready to go … but I can’t stop buying or acquiring books though, I don’t have quite that amount of self-control (the booksellers of Abingdon will be wiping their brows in relief at that). It’s felt really good up till now – but I will soon reach the point at which I want to keep all the remaining tomes, whereupon a new strategy will be required.

    The books that are going are a variety: ones I know I’ll never re-read or refer to, reference books not needed anymore and shamefully loads from the TBR pile – many returning to the charity shop from whence they came!

    1. Ah, the boomerang buy! Your clearout sound very satisfying, Annabel, and I’m sure your local charity shop will be delighted. Good luck with the remainder, although it sounds as if you’re almost done.

  3. I love your phrase about books ‘earning their space’. I do have problems letting go, unless I really didn’t enjoy a book and there’s zero likelihood of rereading or recommending it to anyone (the aptly titled ‘Gone Girl’ springs to mind). I admire your disciplined approach!

    1. Thank you, and I will be passing on your comment about my disciplined approach to H! He may look surprised.

  4. I have a periodical prune for the local charity shop. The only problem is that having taken the books off the shelves I then make a pile of them by the front door to remind me to pick them up the next time I’m heading off towards the shopping centre. Once they are where I can see them every time I go out of the house I always seem to find a reason why they shouldn’t have been taken down in the first place and a good half of them then make their way back onto the aforementioned shelves. I need more determination, that’s what it is.

  5. I think a cull every so often is a must … mainly those I have read but can’t see me ever wanting to reread or even have on the shelf (Gone Girl went, oh yes, along with One Day …). And sometimes those which I haven’t yet read … mind you, I have been known to get rid of a book then be compelled to buy it again. On more than occasion. Madness.

    1. Oh, that’s a confession, Claire! I haven’t bought, culled then consciously bought again but I have bought a book that was already sitting on shelves waiting to be read.

  6. My sin is holding on to books from my schooldays and uni – some of them really ought to go! I do regularly prune more recent reads however, trouble being, when I go to the charity shop with them, I end up bringing as many home again….

  7. As someone who moved frequently and internationally, I am a perennial pruner. The system i find most satisfying is to give books to friends. It doesn’t matter what it is. If I hear someone talking about a book, I give it to them. If they are going on a trip and I have a book set in that place, I give it to them. Being able to share my books with my friends has actually brought me a lot of joy and it makes them easier to part with.

    1. That’s a lovely solution, Tanya. And you can discuss the book when your friend has read it so you’re not entirely letting it go.

  8. I find clearing out bookshelves difficult! If I really dislike a book, I tend to have no problem donating it to charity but otherwise I usually find some reason to keep it… If only I had unlimited space for books… 🙂

    1. I know what you mean, Gemma, although once I’m in the swing of a clear out I find it quite therapeutic!

  9. I do regular pruning these days – they all know my giftaid number by heart at my favoured charity shop’s till from the bags I take down there. I am doing more of it at the mo to try and reclaim some space in the spare bedroom that is more of a library – I’d like to put a bed back in it! We’ll have a bookswap table at a charity quiznight next week – so I’ve sorted out a pile to get that going too. I’ve suddenly realised that as I’m getting older and my shelves are still so overloaded that I won’t actually get round to re-reading most of those I keep – so I’m being much more picky – I have my blog-posts to remind me what I thought about the books I read and don’t keep.

    1. Sounds like an excellent strategy, Annabel. I agree with your re-reading point although there are books I’d find it too painful to part with even though I’ll never find time to read them again. There’s also the ‘books do furnish a room’ point. There’s something heartwarming about sneaking a peek through someone’s window and seeing a book-lined room.

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