A 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?
There’s a little chink appearing in my bookshelves now that I’ve made a concerted effort to read what I already own rather than go buying yet more books. With those plus a few I decided I really wasn’t ever going to finish, I had a neat little pile ready for disposal yesterday. These are what remain after separating out what I think other members of my family might like (I try not to pass books onto friends because I don’t want them to feel embarrassed if they found it wasn’t their cup of tea wheras my family have no such qualms).
But what to do with the remainder?
In the past I would have just carted the books off to the nearest branch library but since their shelf space is limited and the books would just end up in the storage basement, there didn’t seem point to that.
Given the amount of money I’ve spent on them it would be great if I could get some kind of return but the few second hand shops that remain don’t appear to want the books I have or wouldn’t pay more than a £1 for each of them so it’s not really worth it. Neither is selling them on sites like eBay. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll have to just give them away.
I’ve flirted with book swapping in previous years but not had much success in finding people who want my books and have something I want. Plus there’s all that faffing about at the Post Office which isn’t as easy now that so many franchises have closed. I don’t really get the book crossing idea even though I know it has many fans. If I leave a book on a plane, isn’t it likely the cleaning staff who are under pressure to get the craft turned around fast, will just scoop it up into their rubbish bags? If I leave it on a seat somewhere will someone think it’s been forgotten and just leave it there Or maybe they’ll think its an unattended item and call the army disposal squad??
So the easiest option I’ve found is just to take it to a local charity shop. At least they’ll get some income if they manage to sell them plus additional tax benefit through the Gift Aid scheme.
What do you do with your unwanted books when you’ve finished with them?