The Culling of the Shelves

Having recently immersed myself in the world of Minimalism blogs, I have realized that  there is very little need for me to really buy many actual books in the future. I am fortunate to have a  good municipal library system along with access to the local university’s library, and, should neither of these have the title I am searching for, I can always go to the Inter-library loan system which is free and easy to use and mostly successful in obtaining my book requests.

However, the problem remains as to the books I currently own: which ones to keep and which ones to donate to the library book sale? I have one and a half bookcases stuffed with books, along with a bedside table which has a pile of books on its shelf and below it. I am the type of reader who buys books that I haven’t read yet, and so probably 90% of my bookshelves contain books which are listed in my TBR pile. I bought it based on the recommendation of a respected blogger or article somewhere, and each has the potential inside it of being a really good reading experience. (I rarely keep my books once I have read them, unless they are a rare reference book or similar.)

The usual organizing advice is to make three piles of whatever you want to cull:  one pile to keep, one pile to “wait and see”, and the last pile to give away. But if the selection of books has been carefully made prior to purchase, how do I choose which ones to remove? Admittedly, there are a couple of guilt-induced purchases – a “never going to be read” classic or a well-meant gift from someone. Those should not be so hard to pull out and put in to the “to go” pile.

Perhaps I should examine how long I have had each particular book, with the idea that if I have had it for one year or more and *still* have not read it, I am probably not going to ever get around to reading it. I don’t think I give sentimental attachment to the majority of my books (apart from a few childhood ones), and so many of the titles are books I have read about and “had to have” as someone out in the world of blog land wrote a stunningly persuasive book review that made it sound very appealing.

What about books that are available as easily found e-books (e.g. “classics” etc.)  I could probably start to get rid of some of those as they are free on e-book most of the time, and when not free, just pocket change otherwise. But does culling a book mean that I have admitted defeat with it? That I will never get around to reading it, e-book or otherwise? There is an element of guilt associated with the unread books, and the assumption that if I actually own the book, then the probability of me reading it goes up?

Another quandary is that although I have these shelves of appealing unread books available to me, I still make regular visits to the library to get *more* unread books (just different than the ones I have on the shelves at home). Add to that, the arrival of the ILLs with their un-renewable deadlines and the cost (to someone somewhere) of delivering the book to me – what then? It seems to be that I frequently read to deadlines and their flexibility: the ILLs get read first, then the normal library books, and then (perhaps) the poor lonely bookshelf books.

Perhaps the key is to stop using the library and its services and focus on the books I already own. However, this is not an easy decision as I am a huge believer in the role of municipal libraries in communities, so would stopping using the library mean that I have withdrawn my support and possibly lead to the closing of the libraries?

Obviously, I have a lot to think about, and some may say that I am making things more complicated than necessary! It just seems to be quite a big decision as to which books to cull. However, if I make an error and give one away that I really want, there’s always the dangerous One-Click option on Amazon (and that’s a whole other column!)

UPDATE October 2012: “Stop buying books”? What was I thinking about? “Stop using the library” – again, what was I thinking?… I think that I may have different titles in the shelves now, but the number of books is probably the same! 🙂

UPDATE April 2013: Ditto above. 🙂

UPDATE March 2015: Ditto above. 🙂

UPDATE March 2017: Ditto above. 🙂

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One thought on “The Culling of the Shelves

  1. Hahaha… now I can see that we DO have something in common! 😉
    While I have always envied those who have access to great libraries in their towns or cities, at least I know I have one thing less to worry about when it comes to having too many books to choose from. Greed is the word I need to watch out for. As it is, I get distracted easily enough and it’s so strange how the books that are not the ones I am currently reading or have intended to read, always seem to suddenly be the ones that I really want to read. Probably a case of the grass is always greener on the other side. :p

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