Today, a practical question from a reader doing some spring cleaning:
I have a question for the Book Dr.!!! What do you do with all the books you’ve read? I have to sort through mine & simply cannot keep all I have! I must let go… but how would YOU choose?!?! Thanks, Buried in Books
Dear Buried in Books,
I feel your pain. I have floor-to-ceiling books on numerous walls and there still isn’t enough room. Whenever I have cleaned out books, I tend to be inspired by the words of William Morris, English textile designer and pre-Raphaelite:
The way this translates into books for me is three categories of Books I Keep:
- Reference: I use a lot of books to look things up- a condensed Oxford English Dictionary, a Dictionary of Symbols, Tarot manuals or the I Ching if I’m feeling experimental and so on. Cookbooks I actually use go here.
- Books I love and read often: Any book that I will want to read more than once, or even dip into for inspiration or am always wanting to lend to someone, I keep. Poetry books like Hafiz’s The Gift is one of these. Books I just adore and sometimes want a paragraph out of also fit this type- Love in the Time of Cholera, or Letters to A Young Poet are examples of this.
- Books that are beautiful objects: Some of my books are wonderful to have because I love seeing them there. Photography books, books on design and architecture fit here.
- Books that I feel excited to read in the future: I have a book acquisition problem. I have put a moratorium on buying any new books for a while, but any book I have not yet read that makes me think “I can’t wait to dive into” stays.
These are the main categories. A book has to fit into at least one of these to stay long. Even better, there are many that fit more than one: reference books that are beautiful, or Books I feel excited about reading that are beautiful AND a good reference. And so on. The more categories it fits into, the more secure it is.
But when I do a sweep, I have to accept the fact that, as my aunt and I once decided- some books are like wine and age beautifully as you let them sit and wait for the right moment to read. But others are like fruit and go bad sitting on the shelf waiting.
When a book has gone bad, you will know. You look away from it, can’t remember where it came from or what possessed you to bring it home.
Let that one go. Let any go that feel icky or heavy or like you would be just as happy to get them from the library if you wanted to read them again.
I also like to play the game, “If I could only keep x number of books, I would keep the following.” Pick a number. If you could only keep 100- which ones would stay? What about just 10? What if you could only keep 1?
Please do share your lists if you try this. And anyone reading, please do share as well- do you ever get rid of books? How do you decide which ones to let go?
Which ones would you keep?
The Book Dr.