Weeding in your books

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Weeding in your books

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Mar 9, 2012, 7:41am

Is it a crime or a necessity to get rid of books? Just to make room for other ones?
How do you decide which ones to keep, throw out paperbacks, get rid of those you never got to read,..? Any tips, comments,...?

Mar 9, 2012, 9:27am

As a writer, I think it's a good idea to make the fullest use of my computer. I keep a database of what I call "pithy quotations and leg-wetting facts" that I garner from my reading. I feel that any book worth keeping around will contain at least ONE "pithy quotation or leg-wetting fact." Books that contain no useful or note-worthy information aren't worth keeping. Might as well devote storage space to reams of blank paper (or air) as to books that have nothing to say.

Years ago, we had "The Last Whole Earth Catalog." All jokes and japes aside, by stating (somewhere in there) that "Books are tools," "The Catalog" gave what was to me a fresh, new way to look at what I read. At the time, I had never thought of books in that way, but I immediately saw the truth of it. What good is it to keep a broken wrench, a bent screwdriver, a gap-toothed saw, or any "tool" that won't do useful work? Much as I love my books, I see no sensible reason not to treat them as I'd treat any other tool.

Mar 9, 2012, 9:59am

> 1

Not a crime, but may be a necessity due to considerations of room, money, spousal peace, etc. When you say 'get rid of' of course you don't mean to toss them in the trash. Depending on what they are, you may want to try to sell them (yourself on Amazon or elsewhere, or to a dealer) to fund your habit; or donate them to a library sale or Good Will.

Some things to think about when deciding what to keep:
- will I ever read it again?
- have I not read it yet but expect to sonmday?
- is it a reference or other kind of non-fiction book I may want to refer to in the future?
- does it have some special significance to me due to associations with certain people or events?
- is it part of a series or 'collection' that would be less complete without it?
- does it look good on my shelf?

I'm sure there are other factors that could be adduced...

Modificato: Mar 9, 2012, 6:24pm

I have taken at least 50 books to Goodwill--old college texts, free books I've received to review and did not like, paperbacks I've read, etc., etc. How else can one make room for new books inexpensively?

Mar 9, 2012, 8:20pm


Then, of course, there is the question of immortality. I can say of most every book I have that "I will read it or reread it some day." "Someday" in that sentence of course means "someday in the next 500 years or so." There, therefore, may be a problem with the "someday" test.

Mar 9, 2012, 8:26pm

When people look at my books and raise the inevitable (and frankly, ridiculous) question "have you read all these books?", I always reply "I've read some of them twice!

You can imagine the confused looks I get with that.

Mar 10, 2012, 2:46am

Indeed, when I wrote "getting rid of the books" I mean donating them to other readers, charity, the local library,..
The problem with the questions in comment #3 is that I would probably say yes to one of the questions for any book in my library. :-)
I have been giving lots of books away (mostly paperbacks) to charity, or the local library. Ans it feels good to see other people borrow a book you donated,...

Mar 10, 2012, 6:31am

> 6 -- It isn't always a ridiculous question. Read Lewis Lapham's "Money and Class in America." Somewhere in there he tells of those (newly rich) who order mass quantities of leather-bound classics in decorator colors, with which to adorn their Manhattan apartments.

Lapham also explains how one can tell old money from new money. Old money, when speaking of Frank Sinatra, says "Ohhhhh, what's his name? You know who I mean! That guy who sings." New money, when speaking of paintings by Picasso, says "I'll take two of the blue ones!"

Modificato: Mar 10, 2012, 1:50pm


Well, maybe I'm unique but I'm hardly rich and I am surrounded by books that I haven't read (and many that I have read but will probably never get around to reading again).

This once was once arguably rational. ("Arguably" is advised.) You knew your interests. You knew a good-seeming book in one of those fields of interest when you saw one (at least after doing the usual 10 minute evaluation). You knew that "out of print" might well mean "if you ever see this book for sale again, you're extremely luck". So if you saw such a book at a reasonable price, you bought it.

With the rise of the internet and truly national or international booksellers like Abe or Bookfinder, this no longer makes sense. It really makes no sense at all with a lot of the books I bought (in, e.g., history of economic thought) available in digital form at little or no cost. But really old habits are sometimes hard to break. Besides which, there is something about the feel of a nicely kept old book...........

Mar 11, 2012, 4:22pm

>9 lawecon: -- Sorry! I'm all out of the blue ones. 8-)

Apr 10, 2012, 4:31pm

reminds me of a funny (to me) picture I saw in a decorating magazine of deliberately aged bathtub stranded in a "library" but the books were all Readers' Digest condensed books. that an example of new money!

Apr 10, 2012, 5:14pm

I just found this thread and have to laugh because I am double- and triple-deep on most of my shelves and still keep buying books. Thank goodness that I use location tags otherwise I wouldn't be able to find anything in the house at all! There are also the 150 or so books that are on a table in the sunroom that I don't want anymore. They go to the thrift store, friends, and out via Bookmooch so I can get different books. I've got 5 due in the mail too - 2 from Amazon, 2 from BOMC, and 1 from Bookmooch.

I have 1,247 books on my shelves that I've tagged "tbr". I derive enormous satisfaction from being able to pander to any kind of book-reading mood I'm in by just looking over my shelves or digging around in my LT catalog. ("Hi, my name is Karen and I'm a biblioholic.....")

Of course I always buy more books and they tend to push older purchases down on the priority list.

Every once in a while I simply realize that a book or an author must go. I won't re-read it, daughter won't want it, another book needs the shelf space.... and the older I get the more okay that is.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:52am

Here's a little essay on weeding from Salon. http://entertainment.salon.com/2012/04/13/the_books_we_give_away/

Apr 13, 2012, 2:58pm

the subject of weeding books troubles me as I find it incredibly hard to toss (why did you buy the book in the first place?) . eventually one has to do some weeding . My rules as much the same as above but also how dated is a book- if it has not become a classic and the book looks too worn and one I wont ever read it again......I am also trying to shed at least some university teaching books many of these are just worth pulping but on the other hand I used them to educate thousands of students. ....rule there is to dump textbooks but not monographs. Oh, and travel books as in guide books date but travel writers can become classics - nice collection is the Penguin travel classic series and never turf Paul Theroux, Michael Palin, Robert Byron, Eric Newby, Colin Thurbon, Pat Barr, Bill Bryson, Jonathan Rabin these just become old friends. I have also found that when I have disposed of a series collection/ subject theme I later regret and start collecting all over again!

Apr 15, 2012, 5:08pm

#14 Africansky1 - there are quite a few books I regret getting rid of, but not more than I don't.....

Apr 16, 2012, 1:04pm

I only get rid of books that I read and don't like. Otherwise, I love having books around and have no problem keeping books that I will in all likelihood never read again. I also have around 1,500 books in the house that I haven't read yet. And that doesn't include my wife's books. The books are combined together, but, twisted soul that I am, I can remember which are mine and which are hers, even though at this point they're all ours. My book buying for the house has slowed somewhat though, since I purchased and began running a used bookstore a little over a year ago. Now most of the buying I do is for the store. But, back to the books in the house, I generally don't get rid of them because I feel strongly that my biographers should be able to see my library. So it is not that keeping books I will never read makes me crazy. It's simply that I'm being considerate of posterity.

Apr 16, 2012, 3:25pm

#16 rocketjk - I've got over 1200 books that I haven't read yet, and that doesn't include cookbooks, reference books, and books that I've classified as ntbr - not tbr - for whatever reason. It's a great problem to have - too many books to read!

Apr 17, 2012, 2:41pm

Today just turfed about 8 books but then bought 2 so that is how life goes . Best of feelings to find an interesting book. Haqppy hunting.

Ago 7, 2012, 8:14pm

I really like this answer, especially where you mentioned spousal peace. My husband reads 1-4 books per year (it's a shame, he's so fast he could read 100 if he really wanted to, and it would be nice to share the hobby) and is completely confused by my reading obsession and need to collect SO (sarcastic) many. My approximate 350 he thinks is an outrageous amount, where I consider it almost embarassingly small. He's extremely frustrated by how the books seem to take over a room, especially since I insist on having them beautifully displayed and not hidden away somewhere. I can't get him to understand how a hypothetical huge video game collection would not be at all the same. So I personally would look to better shelves that don't take up more space than they need to and more efficient arrangements in general before looking to get rid of any.
Also, as much as I collect I am very particular about what books I buy (or take, depending on the situation. A local coffee shop has a wonderful take a book/leave a book shelf). I only buy what I would read, feel a close friend would read, is a handy reference, or looks great. Never drug store romances or anything I wouldn't dream of reading. So getting rid of books has only happened to me... once if ever. Although ending up with books I don't care about has happened. My husband got "how to buy/sell things on ebay" years ago which neither of us has read. I wouldn't mind giving it away if someone asked for it. There are a few others like this in the collection but I'm sure less than 5. If that number started to cause any noticeable clutter I would probably sell them at a used book store.

Ago 7, 2012, 8:52pm

A thread like this inspires recollection of quotes and anecdotes that may appeal to this audience.

I have seldom had occasion to regret a book purchased but several times I have deeply regretted not buying a book when it was available. Most books will be available again or are readily available since people bought them in the first place. As popular and disposable reading shifts to ebooks then there will naturally be fewer copies to be resold later on.

I disagree that all books are equally available inexpensively in electronic form. Pre-1923 US publications and some afterward in the public domain and may be available as scanned books or print on demand. Recent books that are popular are likely to be available as ebooks. However, there's a vast swath of books in the middle that are still under copyright but not economically viable to reprint and illegal to scan and freely release. The over-long copyright terms meas that decades worth of books that would be PD I the US now are not.

If some say that it is not necessary to own books because the libraries or Internet will have them, I would counter that they have not looked very closely at what is and is not available there.

When I collect, I gather the items of interest to me and do not have to bend my reading options to what librarians or publishers deem to make available to me.

I've read stories about collectors who buy another treasure and have to sneak it into the house and hide it for several weeks. That way when it is strategically placed on the coffee table and the less-supportive partner asks when that item was acquired, the collector can reply "that old thing? I've had it for a while." If books are important to you, having a supportive spouse is a great boon that should not be understated.


Ago 17, 2012, 7:32pm

many of the books in my library are old, many older than me. They were taken care by other people. I have taken care of them for many years, now its time for other people again. They have to be passed on. We don't really own books, we just care for them, for a while, and enjoy them while we can. The books that are several decades old, some are several centuries old, have had good care, that's why they're still here. I only hope the next caretaker takes good care too.

Ago 18, 2012, 10:35am

>20 Keeline: I agree entirely! I'd rather have something, not love it, and maybe decide (if it's not a classic) to sell it back to a 2nd-hand store later, than to have had the chance and passed it up! I've already been kicking myself for passing up some copies of classics at the Deventer Boekenmarkt early this month, as even if I don't wind up loving them, I still want to read them at some point, and they were there, for cheap! lol. And, fortunately my husband loves books (nearly) as much as I do, and while he is pickier about what he will choose himself to buy, he is always happy to browse and never begrudges me my own purchases. :)

I practically never get rid of books. I buy them because I want them, and either I have not yet read them or I read and enjoyed them (or I read and didn't quite enjoy but it was a classic so it will remain anyway), so why would I want to be rid of them? I love books, I wish I could have every book out there. I do not give up my collection unless I absolutely had to.

Modificato: Dic 29, 2012, 8:13pm

The only books that I ever get rid of are selections that I have read and deemed unworthy of remaining on my shelves. This doesn't necessarily mean disliking it (though, of course, that is the dominating factor). There are some classics and significant works of literature that I don't personally enjoy, but I wouldn't consider getting rid of them. I am more likely to keep non-fiction books that I read and don't care for than fiction, unless I believe them to be inaccurate or especially obnoxious. I don't like getting rid of knowledge.

I also sometimes swap out copies of books. If I come across a better copy (for example, hardcover as opposed to paperback, better condition, a prettier cover, older / newer), I will often donate my other copy to a book-hungry reader, unless the original copy has some sort of sentimental value.

In fact, I have an entire small bookshelf in my front hall full of "Free Books," which I always tell guests they are welcome to adopt. They are mostly classics, as I find numerous copies of those all the time. Alas, the shelf gets piled up, because here in the land of surfers / tanning bed queens, there aren't many readers to be found.