Reluctant to let your books go?

BookshelvesA columnist in one of the UK national newspapers confessed recently that she feels unable to give any of her books away.  About to move house she is faced with the prospect of finding space for her collection of roughly 10,000 books in a property half the size of her current abode. Such is her reluctance to part with any of them she even ponders farming her son out to his grandparents because that would give her another 150 feet of shelving.

I can’t give away unread stuff, obviously, but I can’t give away the things I’ve read either. They all carry memories — of the places I read them (all of Austen one glorious fortnight with an equally bookish friend at the end of university), the people who gave them to me, the long-gone second-hand shops I found them in …

I can sympathise a little. Some of my books are precious too because they come with their story of how they were bought or acquired. Like my copy of Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery that I bought in celebration when my exam essay was deemed best business paper by no less than The Economist (no idea even now how I pulled off that feat). Its covered in greasy dabs but its seen me through many large family Christmas lunches so there’s no way I’m giving that one away. Or my copy of Zola’s Germinal bought after a search in every bookshop in every town on a trip to South Africa in an effort to replace the copy I’d taken from home and accidentally drenched with suntan cream from a leaking bottle. Believe me that quest took some effort but I was only 100 pages or so from the end and had to know what happened.

I used to keep most of my books even if they had no provenance I could remember. I’d finish a novel, think “I might want to read this again” and shove it back on the shelf. Did I ever go back and re-read – hardly ever in fact. The only ones to get a second look-in were those loosely deemed classics. The rest just gathered dust. The few attempts I made at a clear out usually resulted in me creating a pile to give away and my husband removing at least half of them because “I might want to read that”.

In the last few years I’ve changed tack and become more inclined to let go of books. Partly because I’ve been buying more than ever before and simply had no place to put the new ones but also because my tastes have changed. I read very little historical fiction now so what’s the point in keeping a stack of these bought 20 years and kept for re-reading? There’s also a large dose of reality at work — I struggle to get through all the books I buy each year or find in the library so the chances of me getting to re-read ones from the past are very slim indeed.

Now when I finish a book I quiz myself on the chances I will re-read it and it’s only if I answer with a ‘definitely’ does the book syay in the house. All ‘maybes’ and ‘possibleys’ go immediately into my giveaway bag destined for the library or a charity shop or  Bookcrossing cafe.

What I have never thought of doing was scanning them to create a more space-efficient electronic copy. Apparently there is a whole community of people who do just that, investing quite some serious sums of money to get a quality product though it also appears you can get a relatively decent scan with equipment costing around $20. If you’re so inclined take a look at the DIY Bookscanner site which has instructions on how to scan and what equipment you need.

I can see this might be a solution for people who are reluctant to let go of books yet have space constraints. But its not one I’ll be adopting.

First there is a legality question that bothers me. Isn’t it a breach of copyright to scan an entire work like this even if for your own use? I’m no legal expert but it seems an issue and I cant find a clear answer.

Then ther’s the fact I would end up with an electronic copy but the experience of reading this wouldn’t be great. It would be the equivalent of reading a stack of photocopies or PDFs surely?

But the biggest cocern of all for me is that to produce this scanned version you first have to remove the cover and cut the pages, thus completely destroying a perfectly good book that someone else might appreciate. I hate the thought of books being destroyed in this way. Fair enough for people to do this as a way of preserving a book that was otherwise damaged beyond repair and irreplacable or out of print but surely not the best approach for run of the mill titles and editions. Why not just buy the e-reader version and donate the original? Or am I being too harsh and judgemental?

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on July 30, 2017, in Bookends, Sunday Salon and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 53 Comments.

  1. Scanning a whole book? That seems ridiculous to me (yes, I know that sounds judgemental but really, beyond all the issues re cutting up the book etc, that would take a serious amount of time, even if you had a automatic feed to your scan. I would rather spend that time reading!)

    And yes, that would be a copyright infringement in Australia I believe. You can copy 10% for personal use (for study etc) but no more. I’m pretty sure I’m right about this. Even if the book is out of print, I think technically you can’t do it. However, copyright – particularly regarding fair and personal use – does change from country to country.

    My downsizing option with special things – like books, records etc – is to scan the cover because it’s usually the memories that go with the work that I’m trying to keep, and the cover would usually be enough to achieve that (though I’d have to have my scanned covers in a clear and browsable location.)

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  2. There are a few books out there I’ve read digitally because they were rare and needed to be scanned to be preserved. I often find them on the website Project Gutenberg or at a very large university near my house (Notre Dame). I wrote a whole post about why I think people should get rid of books that got a lot of attention when it was post that you also read/commented on, Karen. Maybe your other readers will want to check it out? Here’s the link: https://grabthelapels.com/2016/05/29/books/

    I will say this about the Little Free Libraries I mention, though: in my town there are quite a few of them, and only ONE has not yet been vandalized. Many have been repeatedly vandalized. My husband insists these are the communities that need books even more, and I’m inclined to agree with him.

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  3. That scanning stuff reminds me of what we did with textbooks in college when the semester started but we hadn’t gotten our books yet and we had to photocopy the pages we needed to study from the copy in the library.
    On the other hand, I wouldn’t choose to move to a place where the books I love can’t come with me.

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  4. I believe in the US Google settled copyright law on book scanning as fair use under the argument that scanning a print book is transformative and not copying. Of course along with that goes the limit that you are not allowed to share that “transformed” book because that would be violating copyright. Scanning a book that is already available to purchase as an ebook seems like a waste of time to me.

    As for my own book collection, as I get older I find it easier and easier to get rid of books. I am also finding it easier to not buy books to begin with but simply borrow them from the library.

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    • Thanks for that insight Stefanie. I don’t know what EU law says on this but if the end result is that you can only have a scanned version for personal use then what is the point?

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    • Stefanie, I’m also more apt to use the library because if a book sits on their shelves too long, THEY get rid of it! I believe when it comes to transformative copyright laws, you also aren’t supposed to give away the original because then you actually have made a copy that prevents the publisher from making more money (which someone would spend to buy their own copy instead of taking yours). I wish I knew more about copyright, though I think it’s purposefully made confusing!

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  5. PS I’ve heard that there’s no guarantee e-books stay on a kindle for ever? Is this a rumour? What about the cloud?

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  6. I’m with you on the legality of scanning it in and then you mentioned having to destroy the book and I was horrified!

    I don’t keep very many, I have one permanent bookshelf for signed copies, collectors (foreign edition copies) and the books I know I’ll re-read (Harry Potter and Jane Austen mostly).

    Everything else goes in a bag as soon as it’s done. I’m working my way through my overstuffed TBR bookshelves, but I think I’m coming up on another purge in the next year or two.

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  7. Great post. I am rubbish at getting rid of books too – but to me they’re ornaments and I do love being surrounded by them. I now have floor to ceiling bookshelves complete w ladder (in our small cottage!) so for the moment I have plenty of space for books, and I find it deeply comforting to be surrounded by them.

    Having said this, I’m reading more and more on my kindle these days, which I also love. So, baa]lance in all things!

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  8. I used to read and then keep the books I read unless I really disliked them. These days I’m much more aggressive in deciding what to keep. If there’s a chance that I’ll reread it, a very strong chance, I’ll keep it, but otherwise I donate to the local library charity shop. About 60 books in the last few months.

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  9. Right before we moved from New England to Philadelphia, I culled 30 boxes of books and donated them to the local library. After I got my Kindle, I went through my ‘core library’ and got rid of any paperback classics that were available free or almost free as e-books. I’ve never been a re-reader, so I gladly give away any books I read except for my reference books, my core library, my history books, and my old, collectable books. That keeps things manageable.

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  10. Most recently, unless I gave a book a ‘highly recommended’ award, I have donated it to Oxfam Books. I’ve just purged 50 or so in a swoop of the shelves. The £2 (plus gift aid) that each book is sold for has raised many hundreds for this worthwhile charity.

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  11. Love this post! I find it very difficult to get rid of books but simply had to when moving house recently. Now I try to be much more brutal when I read something and have a serious talk with myself – am I honestly going to read this again? If not, straight to the charity shop!

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  12. The scanning thing is very odd and not something i would do. I have become more ruthless as well, I carefully decide if a book is going to be re-read or if it means a lot because of who gave it to me and why, then they go to BookCrossing. I am hoping to donate a load to a book stall our local refugee support organisation runs, but still registered on BookCrossing. I also go through the shelves regularly and weed out stuff I’m not likely to re-read. I have managed to keep the collection at around 2,300 for a while by doing that.

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  13. I have a similar strategy to you in that I ponder as to whether I would reread a book or not, although very little rereading ever gets done. A friend was involved in an annual breast cancer fundraiser for a while which proved very useful for a yearly cull.

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  14. I have difficulty imagining cutting to scan a book, so that won’t work for me!

    I did start letting some books go when I did my series of purges in 2015. I think I’m due for another. Sentiment makes it hard to part with some of the books I loved from certain periods in my life that created that attachment.

    I do have a couple of stacks of “nightstand books” that I might reread and won’t part with. But who knows when I will do that?

    Great post! I can’t imagine having 10,000 books. I think I have around 500, after my purges (not counting e-books, of course).

    I just started reading The Bookshop on the Corner, about a librarian who is surrounded by books at home, and keeps adding to them, threatening to burst the seams of her home. She is now looking for a van so she can start a bookmobile. I’m intrigued.

    Enjoy whatever you decide to do about your books!

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  15. I don’t think you’re being harsh and/or unreasonable. I think it’s sacrilege to destroy a book. At the bookstore some books per the publisher we have to tear off the front and back covers of some books before sending them back. I’m not a fan of eBooks, so scanning them is not an option, to begin with. What I have started doing is taking books I don’t want and do one of three things:

    1) In my apartment building people, to include me, have been known to leave books in the vestibule. It’s kind of like the Little Free Library, but not.

    2) Take them to a Little Free Library. Sometimes I look to see what’s in there, but I’ve never taken anything. Sidebar: Once I looked in one that was located outside of a church and there were nothing but Bibles in it. I thought it a bit strange, but then I after a moment of contemplation realized it wasn’t strange at all.

    3) Take them to a Goodwill

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  16. Cutting books to scan them? Sound like the ridiculous Marie Kondo has been in their ear.
    I don’t keep many books – 95% of mine are handed on the friends (with the instruction to hand it on again) or go to the charity shop (my local charity shop doesn’t chuck them out and I know because I often see my old books on their shelf!).

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  17. I don’t find the idea of scanning a book that ridiculous. Of course if it’s already available as an ebook then you can purchase it but I’m guessing that people are scanning those books that aren’t available. I have plenty of them and many are falling apart so can’t really be passed on, sold etc. So I see it as a way of preserving them in a way—I haven’t actually got round to scanning any yet but I was thinking about it recently.

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  18. I dislike more than I can say the notion of gutting/destroying a book in order to scan it. Similarly I’m seriously unhappy to learn how many books donated to charity shops end up in landfill – to the extent that I’ve lost sleep worrying about it. I must let books go because I’ve run out of space and my family are very unhappy with me appearing to value books more than them – ie they live in/ “dominate” every room and many find this intimidating. I see my books as treasured friends but I do not want my beloved children and their families to feel they can’t come to stay as often as I’d like. It has taken me an agonising age to respect their point of view too. So I Oxfam as quickly as I can though the ratio of out to in isn’t equal. Recently I had a box ready to go and my husband and son-in-law thought they’d be helpful and took them to the much nearer charity shop than more book friendly Oxfam. Husband couldn’t believe how upset I got over this even though I explained that Oxfam welcomed books, were book friendly knew how to sell them for a reasonable price (even if only for 99p etc) Other charity outlets plain didn’t. Because I continued to be upset (books really are my thing) he revisited that particular shop before work one day and asked them if I was right. They told him I truly was, that they didn’t know much about books and hadn’t even unpacked the box. (He’s such an innocent he hadn’t envisaged people who couldn’t actually care less about books). Said box was offered back to him, he took it and offered a donation, surprising them by doing so. The box then eventually got to the Oxfam I’d intended them for – and was received with delight.
    Apologies for going on about this, it’s an emotional subject for me, my grammar and syntax are probably all over the palce too. Perhaps I should add the Oxfamming involves a car journey and tricky parking. I also have mobility issues so need to prepare and gear myself up to taking quantities of books.
    SORRY for going on and on…

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    • No apology needed Carol when its something you feel so passionate about. I hadnt realised some charity shops throw out books they cant sell. I do think ahead and decide which books go where- the more ‘literary’ ones go to a city-centre Oxfam because they have a good selection of these already so customers know to look there. The more mainstream go to a shop closer to home which seems to have a reasonable turnover.

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  19. I agree that the scanning idea seems a bit bizarre for a general reader. Digitizing a rare book to make it more accessible is a different issue. Over the years I’ve given away more books than I currently have on my overwhelmed shelves. I used to keep every book that came into my possession, but after moving around the country several times I felt it was better to set the books free to find new homes.

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  20. Rip them up and scan them??? No – that’s nuts, and just destructive. Either keep them or buy the ebook. Oddly, I find it easier to get rid of the newer books, and I’m being quite sensible about deciding if I’ll ever read them again. But parting with the older sentimental volumes I’ve had for decades is a different kettle of fish….

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  21. I used to hoard all my books, they really belong to my most precious posessions, but now that I’m sent some books for review I have made the decision to not keep all books. If it’s a five star rating it’s definitely a keeper, the rest is up for debate. Although the first time was really difficult. I got a book from another blogger and asked which one she wanted in return and it was actually one that I wasn’t planning on giving away.. but when I got her book it was actually much easier to give it up. The books on my ereader are okay too but if it’s a really amazing read it’s so much more fun to have it in paperback and be able to look at it while I’m sitting here..

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  22. I’ve become more ruthless about culling my books over the last few years. Part of the reason behind that was that I took some time to pack up all of my books in America on a recent visit and was astonished at just how many I had. Nowadays once I’ve read a book I only decide to keep it if it’s one I might reference or read again or it was an absolute favorite. Otherwise, I give it to a friend, resell it on Amazon or via We Buy Books or Ziffit, or give it to a charity shop. I feel like I have a pretty quickly rotating stock here in the UK. It’s just all those boxes in America that are the issue.

    That scanning idea is bizarre. If space is an issue you’d think someone would just read Kindle books.

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