Tipping Point

So, I looked round the house this morning and forced myself to recognised that we had reached a tipping point.  Either I have to have an extension built or some of those books have just got to go.

For a short while I really did contemplate the extension option, until, that is, our Financial Bear took me firmly by the scruff of the neck and shook some sense into me.  He is quite correct when he says that we do not have £30,000 to spare and neither can I argue with the fact that we would all hate the mess and disruption.  So, some of those books have just got to go.  But, on what principle do I weed?

When I was still lecturing full-time a friend of mine decided that she was going retire at the conclusion of that academic year.  She was determined that it would be an orderly retreat and so to that end she decided to start getting rid of those books she wasn’t going to need for that year’s teaching from September onwards.  Without a word of a lie, the very day after she took the first boxful to Oxfam a student walked into her office and said she wanted to do her dissertation on precisely the topic Maggie had just unloaded.  She had to go down to the Oxfam shop and buy her own books back.  It was a salutary lesson.

With that in mind, I’ve started sorting my books into several piles.  One of these comprises those books that I know I will need for my teaching and will not be able to get hold of easily through the library.  Those I have to keep.  Then there is a pile of books that I am constantly dipping into: collections of essays, poetry anthologies and the like.  Unless I feel I have outgrown the ideas contained in these, they are unlikely to make the journey either.  However, there are a lot of academic books that I hung onto when I retired just because I felt it would be nice to revisit them when I had more time to ruminate over their contents.  Guess what?  In five years I never opened one of them.  Finally, I am going to have to bite the bullet and they are going to have to go.  A lot of these are on the subject of Children’s Literature and I know there is someone out there who is studying this.  If you live near enough to Birmingham to collect them and they might be of use to you let me know.  They are yours for the asking.

Far more difficult to sort through is the fiction.  Now, I do re-read occasionally, but if I’m honest a lot of the books sitting there are ones that I enjoyed the first time round, but am seriously unlikely to read again.  I can’t keep up with all the new fiction I want to explore so I’m hardly likely to go back to novels that were good but not spectacular.  However, I find it is not so easy to wave goodbye to characters with whom I have become personally involved.  Whisper it behind your hand; it would be like having to say goodbye to one of The Bears.  Ten, even five, years ago this would have been a real problem, but I think I have found at least a temporary answer.  Any book that I can download onto my e-reader for free is going.  I’m going to have to check this out, but I think that will clear at least two or three shelves.  I’m uneasy about this.  I like the real thing.  But, I have to use an e-reader when I’m out and about because of my back problems.  It is silly not to be prepared to use it to solve this difficulty as well.

Eventually, it may also have to be the solution to the space taken up by more modern novels, even if that does mean paying for replacements should I need them.  After all, only this morning I saved £30,000 by not building an extension.  You can buy a lot of e-books for just a tenth of that amount.

How have other people faced up to this dilemma?  I know I’m not alone in worrying about the weight the joists that run under an upstairs study are being asked to bear.  Any suggestions for further weeding would be gratefully received because I suspect that the measures I’m putting in place are only going to scratch the surface of the problem and replacing the kitchen ceiling would after all be as messy as any new build project.


20 thoughts on “Tipping Point

  1. For me, the choice of whether to keep a book is almost entirely about whether I’m likely to read the book again. I don’t reread much, so I end of getting rid of a lot of books after I read them the first time. Some I’ll keep around for a while but eventually decide to let them go. But I know just what you mean about saying good-bye to characters you’ve grown attached to. The books I end up keeping are often books in a series, and I keep all the books, even if I didn’t love them all, because I love the people in the series. As my bookcases fill up, I’ll get more strict (I hope).

    I was having a problem with collecting books and never getting around to reading them, but I solved that by getting rid of the unread books I could get at the library. Now I just try to slow down my book-buying!

    1. Teresa, that’s fascinating, because there are several series that I have left precisely where they are because I know I can’t be parted from characters who have become friends over perhaps as long as twenty years. You have also pinpointed something else that is an issue: the number of unread books on my shelves. I may well find myself following your example there. Thank you.

  2. Outside of some books I have collected basically as objects, for their cover art, special edition or for the bindings, I tend to follow the five year rule you mentioned above. I keep only books I use on a regular basis and books I intend to re-read “someday.” If I haven’t used a book in over five years, if I haven’t read it for the first time within five years, if I haven’t re-read it in over ten years, I make an effort to part with it.

    That has left me with plenty of books, three cases full to over flowing, but it has kept them all in just two rooms of our house.

    I’m not including books I have in my classroom, though I generally follow the above rules there, too.

    1. It was having to give up my University office that really caused the problem at home, cbj. I just about had things under control until then but losing about thirty foot of shelf space was disastrous.

  3. I’m starting to wonder if getting an e-book was a mistake, because I don’t like reading on it & I have yet to finish a book on it – that may change with some of the out-of-print stuff I’ve loaded on it. I’m in somewhat of a similar situation, if I want to add any more bookcases I have to get rid of furniture. I do tend to re-read, though less perhaps in recent years as I’ve tried to reduce the TBR stacks. These have been the focus of my weeding lately, particularly the impulse buys that realistically I know I won’t read. But since i can’t seem to stop buying more books, I’m not sure I’ve actually made any progress.

    1. It’s this inability to stop buying books that seems to be the real problem, Lisa, isn’t it? At the moment, my major concern is how I take a box of books into the Oxfam shop without then finding myself browsing their shelves and coming out with a bigger pile than I took in:)

  4. I had to do this just recently – due to new bookcases, in fact, and a radical reorganisation of the shelves. I ended up taking off all the books I’d read and probably wouldn’t read again. But then a lot of them I stored in those big plastic storage crates and we have put them in the loft. I am a big believer in what you throw away being the very next thing you need.

    1. How did you guess there are now three big plastic storage crates in the garage? I vowed after my first house move that nothing would ever go in the loft again!

  5. I have this problem too. I weeded out some books when we moved house, but not enough. So we have books in plastic storage boxes up in the loft too. I’ve been more strict about books I’ve bought recently and have taken them over to Barter Books in Alnwick, but the difficulty there is that they barter books – so I have to bring some home! I really find it so difficult to get rid of books I’ve loved even if I know that I’ll never get round to re-reading them.

    With my recent health scare I was appalled to think of all the books I’d never get round to reading (it will happen one day) and that has slowed me down a bit in buying books and spurred me on to read the to-be-reads sitting on the bookshelves. The answer has to be not to go into bookshops, or libraries so often and to be ruthless about what you can physically store and what you will ever re-read.

    With regard to e-books replacing hard copies – I thought that was a good idea, but I haven’t managed to actually get rid of any of these duplicates. And currently I’m reading Our Mutual Friend on Kindle in bed because I can see it better and the paperback the rest of the day. I like the feel of having a physical book in my hands better, but actually find the e-book better (apart from the font size) because I can highlight passages so easily, without having to write things down or use post-its. So maybe I should take the paperbacks to the charity shop.

    Good luck with it all.

    1. Margaret, your comment about your health scare reminded me of my doctoral supervisor who was bemoaning one day (when he must have been about 45) that he’d worked out that he already owned more unread books than he had time left to read. This is what comes of having book shelves both at home and where you work. A lot of my problems stem from having had to find room for all the books from my office when I retired.

  6. We just did some culling at my house, although we probably only got rid of a small percentage of the whole. But our criteria was to donate books that we have read and didn’t love — the ones that were just so-so — and in my case to get rid of books on my TBR shelves that make my heart sink when I think about reading them. I wanted to read them at one point, but I just don’t now. That only got us so far, though. Mostly, I have this vague plan in my mind of moving into a bigger house with more bookshelf space, which, with a new baby, we really could use… 🙂

    1. It’s funny how often you look at a shelf of unread books and wonder why on earth you ever thought you might want to read them in the first place. I have a pile that I am going to give the fifty page test to and then pass them on if I can’t get any further.

  7. It’s SO HARD TO WEED. I thought about getting rid of some of my Viragos lately, the ones I’ve read and think are less good than the others, but in the end I couldn’t. What if I want to read E. H. Young again? It could happen.

    But we do have too many books, and I seem to have acquired just as many as I got rid of a few months ago. For the first time in years I’ve understood that it’s nicer not to have bookcases in every room in the house (even the kitchen). But where to put them?

    1. Frisbee, when I was looking for this house I visited one where it was almost impossible to get round because there were book shelves everywhere, including on the bend in the stairs. At least I haven’t reached that stage yet. And this afternoon I was looking at some of my Viragos and wondering if I could part with them. The trouble with the old green editions is that they can be so hard to get hold of if you want to replace them.

  8. Oh how I sympathise. A few years ago we had a refit of our bedroom which meant we lost the under the eaves walk in cupboard where most of our books were stored. There was no way we could keep them so I had to do some severe pruning. Thats when I discovered I had multiple copies of the same book – 3 versions of Middlemarch, two of Great Expectations, duplicates of many Hardy novels etc. The next thing to go were the detective type novels – the kind of thing I read only if I’m stuck in bed feeling really ill. Why I had ever kept them I have no idea……
    As for your children’s lit books – I’m the one who is starting a course on this next month. I live in south wales so not that close to Birmingham unfortunately but I;d be interested to know what you have. Maybe we can come to an arrangement so you are not out of pocket?

    1. I thought it was you, Kheenand, but I didn’t want to presume or make you feel you had to have them. I’ll make a list and post them unless you want to email me at thinking123@btinternet and then I can let you have it privately. And there’s no question of any arrangement. It’s you or Oxfam.

      As to losing cupboard space, that was really the beginning of my problems. Every room in my previous house had a walk in cupboard. Here I have one small one under the stairs and that’s it. I’ve never really recovered from the move.

  9. I have great emotional ties with books, esp. those which I’ve had for a long long time. Don’t laugh, I still have my university textbooks on my basement shelves. Now, those are decades ago. Funny, it’s easier to throw out more recent books than older ones. And I like to reread books, and sometimes I really don’t know when I’ll do that. So I save them until that day. O books, what do we do without them… what do we do with them… 😉

    1. Who’s laughing? I have boxes full of articles that I saved from my MA course. They were out of date by the time I did my PhD, but have I got rid of them? Of course I haven’t.

  10. So hard to do but I find I am getting better at it as I get older. Both my husband and I are readers so when it comes time to weed we both have to ok what books go. It’s pretty easy to get rid of books we’ve read and just thought so-so. A couple years ago after both of us had Kindles, we went through our shelves and got rid of all the books we could download free. Well, not all the books. I kept all my Jane Austens and a few others. We no loonger buy books in print we can get for free online which has helped immensely. Good luck!

    1. Today, I took all the classical novels available free for download to the Oxfam shop. It was hard. I’ve had some of them for decades, but they are taking up space I desperately need. The trouble is it doesn’t seem to have made that much difference. At least not proportionate to the heartache it’s caused.

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