After the Cull

341df81e231750e5c7f0523db256ffa3Quite some time ago I wrote a post about the need to instigate a book cull.  I was perfectly prepared to live in a house where I could hardly move for piles of books in unexpected places but, when it came to having to up my car insurance because I could no longer get my tiny little Peugeot into a reasonably large garage, I decided that something had to be done.  I asked for help.

Well, many of you responded, most often with suggestions as to where I might take the books that were going to have to go.  Unfortunately, that was really no problem.  I have a plethora of charity shops locally, some of whom are even willing to take the academic books that I no longer need.  No, the real problem was sorting out which books to keep and which to send out into the world seeking new owners.  How do you cut once treasured volumes adrift and tell them to go and find another home?

So, I did what any self-respecting bibliophile would do – I prevaricated.  Have I ever told you that I am a world-class prevaricator?  No?  Well now I have. DSCF0001However, (un)fortunately for me, I live with several very decisive Bears who were simply no longer willing to tolerate the risk of being flattened by a toppling pile of books.  Entreaties were made.  And, when they didn’t work, threats were uttered!

Eventually, I had to give in, and although I think there is still some work to be done in the garage (I am never going to lecture in Children’s Literature again, but I do love reading about it) the house side of things is now a little less hazardous for all concerned.

My first act was to separate everything out into fiction and non-fiction. Surprisingly, the fiction was easier to manage.  To start with, two piles – those that I had read and those that I hadn’t.  The second pile was definitely larger than the first.  Like so many bibliophiles I buy far more books than I can ever hope to read. My doctoral supervisor (a man with even worse hoarding problems than my own) once said to me that the day he came to terms with his own mortality was the day he realised that he had more unread books on his shelves than he could possibly get through in his remaining life time even if he were to never do anything other than read for the rest of his days.

Some of the books in that unread pile were definitely mistakes. I have no idea why I bought them in the first place.  Perhaps I felt that I couldn’t possibly come out of whichever shop I was in without first buying something.  As the daughter of a small shop owner, that is actually quite likely.  They went straight into the charity shop box.  The rest, probably about two hundred (I didn’t dare count) went back on the shelves.

The ones I’d read went into three piles:  those that I couldn’t part with at any price, those that I knew I could live without and around half a dozen about which I couldn’t decide.  At some point I am going to have to read that last group again and pass a final judgement – in or out.

Two shelves for the first group, more boxes for the second and an out of the way corner for the third.

The non-fiction collection, which is as extensive as the fiction, has given me far more problems.  Broadly speaking , it can be divided into four sections: Shakespeare and his Contemporaries,  letters and journals, essays and poetry.   I’m still teaching Shakespeare studies and, as there are around twenty plays I have yet to cover, this collection is only going to go on growing. In fact, it’s been the expansion in this area that has prompted the need to cull in the first place.

The letters and journals and essays are all either literary or theatrical in subject matter and while I have read most of them they are the sort of book that I repeatedly dip into for intellectual and spiritual refreshment.  On very sober reflection I decided that there were in fact three writers who had begun to irritate rather than invigorate.  Fortunately, they were amongst the more prolific and so I was able to consign well over a dozen volumes into the rapidly filling cardboard boxes.

The poetry was another matter.  I know that I don’t read enough poetry but when it came to trying to move any of it on it proved to be completely impossible.  It would have been like trying to excise music from my life.  I am still puzzling over this and meantime the poetry volumes remain firmly on their shelf.

All told, I think I have probably reduced my library by about a third and Shakespeare apart (Love’s Labour’s Lost is just making an appearance in various different editions) I have been reasonably good about what I’ve bought.  Only books that I’ve borrowed from the library and then found that I need to add to those shelves holding books I simply can’t part with have found their way in.  How long this state of affairs will persist is another matter entirely.

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30 thoughts on “After the Cull

  1. Congratulations, I know how hard such a task is. My only incentives to do such a cull is when I have to move… I wish I had the heart to do it more regularly. And I’m doubly pleased that you kept all the poetry.

    1. I hope I will never have to move again, Marina. There are still far too many books to contemplate it and then when you add on the CDs…….!

  2. Well done – culling is a difficult and emotional process. I’m cheating by doing the culling a bit at a time and the danger is that more books are sneaking back in…

    1. That’s why it had to be one big push, Karen. I know that if I’d aimed to do it a few at a time I would have started out with good intentions but they would have soon petered out.

    1. One big push was the only thing that would work for me, Jane. I would have given up on a thinning process before anything worth talking about had gone.

  3. Dear Alex, Hi. Though I don’t have the moral strength for a major cull yet, a temporary accident has divided me from most of my volumes, barring those on 3 small bookshelves in my bedroom. Also in my bedroom (where all of my books were formerly stored other than ones temporarily in the living room because I was working with them), there was formerly a huge tri-section bookshelf which held most of my books. A little more than a month ago, it collapsed. Luckily, no one was under it at the time, and we managed to get most of the books on it packed away without incident. And then it was time for the windows replacement team to come in and do work, so the books are still stashed away until work is finished, and presumably until life is stable again and I can get another big bookcase. I never thought I would be able to do without the ability to fondle or flip through or browse my books on a daily basis, but I have filled the time with reading books which are still accessible, and with a crochet project or two. So, while there is life without copious literature, I’m straining at the bit to have everything back the way it was. It will likely be years before I can be as brave as you were about doing a major cull. Kudos!

    1. Now you see that is precisely what The Bears were worried about. I have not read your comment to them. They would be so smug they would be unliveable with.

  4. It’s so hard to let books go – so I admire your resolve – the bears have done well in persuading you to do this. I think my book buying addiction went into overdrive when the 3 for 2 and buy one get one half price tempted me to get books I wouldn’t have bought otherwise and it’s sorting those out that is relatively easy – as for the rest? Well, I’m a ditherer. I may know that realistically I’ll never read a book again, but then again I suspect I may. There have been too many books I let go and a few years, or even months, later wished I hadn’t. Good luck.

    1. Yes, there were always two you wanted and then a third you picked up just because it was going to be free. I suspect that a number of the unread volumes that went out because I couldn’t think why I’d bought them in the first place came into the house that way. I’ve hung on to a lot of my academic books because I ‘just might’ need them again at some point. You’d think having been retired for almost eight years now I would have got over that!

  5. Culling is a nightmare so you are much to be congratulated. I used to take things to charity shops but now I live in France there aren’t any so the books are piling up all over the place. And that’s not to mention the ones I’ve still got in my house in the UK. At least I don’t have to look at those!

    1. Perhaps if you can live in France without the English books you really don’t need them, Harriet? Mind you, it’s easy for me to say that. I know I wouldn’t see it as that simply if I were in your shoes:-)

  6. By a third! I’m so impressed! I try to cull regularly to keep my library from getting out of hand, but nonfiction’s always the area I have the hardest time with. I want to keep all the knowledge! How can I agree to sacrifice knowledge!

  7. Jonathan Lethem said in an interview that he had so many books the people on the floor below were afraid the floor would cave in! Good job at culling! You need your garage.

  8. It’s so lovely to see someone put into words my feelings towards culling. I don’t think many people appreciate the emotional difficulty of it. Congratulations on your achievement!

  9. Wow! You have been busy! Good work culling the herd! I’m really impressed. The hard part will be now that you have some shelf space resisting the urge to fill it back up. How are you feeling about what you’ve done? And what’s the plan for the garage? 🙂

  10. Good work, you are much more brave than I am. The only time I did a cull was about five years ago when we had our bedroom re-designed which meant we lost a cupboard full of books. We had to find new homes but before we did I insisted on doing a clean out. I put everything into Must Keep/Can Go/Not sure piles. It worked well until my husband got in on the act and decided that what I had in the Can Go pile really really he wanted to read. Sometime. So back it went to the Must Keep pile. You know I have a strong suspicion that he still hasn’t read them

    1. Congratulations on what you have achieved and many thanks for the thoughts about the process of book culling – I’m culling too. I agree with you that the fiction is (sort of) easiest. Like yourself, I enjoy reading crime fiction and had accumulated a lot of it. Good as the genre can often be not so many crime novels really bear rereading. You seem to have a clear set of ideas about what books you need to keep. I suppose the ideal is to have a sort of core library without too much of the superfluous and what that core library might be is an interesting problem….

  11. Congratulations Alex! Like everyone else, I am not good at culling. Furthermore, now that I don’t live in Britain, I no longer have access to an English-language library and have to buy any books I want to read. This does not help with the piling up…

    I’m intrigued what you wrote about not being able to touch poetry. I am the same, although I can’t say I read a lot – I am reading more now – and some – perhaps even many – of those books haven’t really been opened since university. Perhaps there’s a part of me that still imagines I’m building a library, rather than housing a collection of books I enjoy reading…

    Good luck with the rest!

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