Hoarders: Literary Edition

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by Dana Grimaldi
Harlequin.com Copy Editor

It’s a pretty safe bet that if you’re reading this post, you love books. And if you’re anything like me, you love books so much that you can’t bear to part with them. This can become a problem, right? Even if you read ebooks, you’ve probably got a lot of print books that you bought in the dark ages, before ebooks were created. And even though I still love print books, they do take up space, and I can only pile books so high before the possibility that they’ll crush me in my sleep becomes a serious concern.

Every now and then I try to do a book cull, getting rid of the books I no longer need and making room for new books. Over the years, I’ve honed this process to a fine art, not unlike classical music or video games. I’d like to share the questions I ask myself when deciding whether or not I should keep a book. Hopefully you’ll find it useful!

1. Did I like this book?

This is the most important question, and it’s also probably the easiest to answer. If you didn’t like the book, out it goes. If you did like it, things can get trickier…

2. Will I read this book again?

If you liked the book, but won’t read it again, you can safely set it free for someone else to discover. If you’ll want to read the book again, you’ll be tempted to keep it. And maybe you should, but first you should consider this…

3. How easy would it be to find another copy of this book? For example, if you loved Jane Eyre, and you know you’ll want to read it again, it would probably be pretty easy to find a copy at any bookstore or library. Or, you could get rid of the paper copy and purchase the book in electronic format. (FYI a lot of out-of-copyright books are available in ebook format for free!) If that’s the case, you can probably get rid of it. Unless…

4. Do you have an emotional attachment to this book?

Some people might laugh at this question. Emotional attachments are for people, right? Or pets? Or handsome, brooding Fassbenders? Not so! There are many books I’ll never give away because of the emotional attachment I have to them. Here’s an example: I have quite a few books my mother read in university. Even though I may have read Heart of Darkness, and even though I could easily find a copy at the library, I can’t get rid of her copy. This is mainly because I love reading the painstaking notes she made in the book’s margins. Check out the allusion to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”! And speaking of school books…

5. Did this book stop being useful once you wrote the exam for first-year psychology? If so, then get rid of it. You will not need to know about classical conditioning in your everyday life. And if you suddenly find yourself with a burning need to find out about it, there’s this thing called the internet. (This is easier said than done. I’m still hanging on to my copy of CP Caps and Spelling, despite the fact that it’s very out of date and I no longer use Canadian Press style.) Next question…

6. Did you buy this book and never read it? Was that more than five years ago? If yes, get rid of it. And finally…

7. Is this book suitable for someone of a first-grade reading level? Then keep it. I firmly believe in keeping children’s books. Even if you never have children, there will be a day when you want to remember what it’s like to believe that you could plant a balloon in the ground and wake up to discover a balloon tree. After all, that’s one of the reasons we love books—it’s why we read them. Books have the ability to transport us to another world, and that’s always worth giving up some shelf space for.

Hopefully these questions will help you figure out which books you can let go of and which books you should keep. I’d love to know what you think…which books will always stay on your keeper shelf?

11 thoughts on “Hoarders: Literary Edition”

  1. Stephanie says:

    I have a strange attachment to the format of a print book. If I read and love something in hardcover, reading the trade paperback later isn’t the same. (I told you it was strange.) Great post, Dana!

  2. Mmmmm handsome, brooding Fassbenders mmmmm. I like the cut of your jib! (And your process of culling your books sounds a lot like mine, and I’ve got a couple dozen books I’ve had for over five years and haven’t read yet! This is what I get for having a To Read list over 900 items in length, and a life goal of wanting to read All The Books. ;) )

  3. I don’t cull books. I try, but I don’t succeed. My little office/library is crammed to overflowing, and still I can’t weed books out. Noticed my 11 yo son having the same issue and converted him to a library user by heartlessly refusing to buy him a new book series (he was shocked – it’s never happened that I’ve said no to a book purchase!). I’m hoping to save him from the path of madness.

    The only hope for me…is ebooks. Now I can buy as many as I want and have no more creaky shelves. Yes I like a paper book in my hands, but you know what, I have all of those I need for now. Phase 2 of my bibliomania is going to be so much easier to manage.

  4. Joan says:

    Since I got my e-reader, I’ve been trying to cull my books, with mixed success. My problem is I love OLD books: the kind with crumbly leather covers and gold stamping. I try telling myself I really don’t need any collections of Victorian poetry, since I never open them, except to smell them. It’s not working. I need help.

  5. I’ve always loved books I could hold in my hands.

    That said, moving, specifically, moving an uncountable number of unspeakably heavy plastic crates up a flight of stairs, helped to lessen my attachment to dead tree books considerably. Nothing like your back killing you and realizing you’ve got another dozen+ books downstairs in the truck, to weaken those ties of affection.

    Am liking my e-reader much more than I’d imagined I would, and slowly, thinning the herd. Because someday I will move again, and my back is saying, oh, HELL no!

  6. Fae says:

    LOL, I love that a brief mention of Jane Eyre (and that lovely picture) earns a Fassbender tag for this post! I approve, he should be inserted into everyday life more often! :)

    As for my keeper shelf, anything by Karen Marie Moning stays. I still regret losing in a move my old copies of her Highlander books, because I’m not a fan of the new covers. I buy her stuff in ebook the day it comes out, but also buy physical copies because…I don’t know why. Habit maybe? I like looking at them? I’m not really sure, but it’s a compulsion to have physical copies ‘just in case’, I guess.

  7. I have *such* a hard time culling books. We still have textbooks in the basement that, even if I go back to teaching, we will never use. I know we should purge, but I just cringe at the thought.

    I really should take a look at which of the classics I have on ebook now though. Those can go since all my print versions were just bought at the library book sale. (Fill a grocery bag for $2? Yes please!)

  8. Patty says:

    Great tips! And I thought I was the only one who kept children’s books…love! :)

  9. Dana says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Denise, I love the word bibliomania. I’ll definitely be using it from now on!

    Beverly, Nothing forces you to realize you have too many books like having to move them. Seeing how many boxes they fill is definitely a shock.

  10. I really resonated with the idea of keeping your most beloved childhood books and have done that resolutely through various moves. I also have my grandfather’s most favorite boyhood books from the early 1900s, so I think this trait must run in our family!

    (And Mr. Fassbinder IS fine, really enjoyed him in “Centurion.”

  11. Elyse Mady says:

    Hello, my name is Elyse Mady and I have a problem with books :)

    You’ll let me know when the next self-help meeting is, please? I’ll never accomplish the cull without group support! LOL

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