Can You Say Goodbye To Your Books?

No-one likes to bid farewell to books. But unless you have a home with ever-expanding wall, there comes a point when your stock of books exceeds the space available.

But how many of you shy away from making that ultimate decision to let go of a book?

A columnist in one of the UK national newspapers once confessed that she felt unable to give any of her books away.  

About to move house she was 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 was her reluctance to part with any of them she even pondered farming her son out to his grandparents because that would give her another 150 feet of shelving.

Too Precious To Lose?

I can’t give away unread stuff, obviously, but I can’t give away the things I’ve read either. They all carry memories β€” 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 …

She has my sympathy.

I too have books that are precious because of the story of how they were bought or acquired.

Take my copy of Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery as an example.

I acquired this in 1993 as part of a prize from The Economist . It’s moved home three times and it’s covered in greasy dabs but it’s seen me through many large family Christmas lunches so there’s no way I’m giving that one away.

I’m just as reluctant to let go of my copy of Germinal by Emile Zola. It’s not simply that it’s my favourite title from his Rougon Macquart series but the fact that buying it became an international quest.

I’d taken it on holiday to South Africa. One hundred pages from the end I accidentally drenched it in sun tan cream. Desperate to know what happened I began a search in every bookshop in every town we visited. I found a second hand copy eventually, just a few days before we were due to fly home. Every time I look at the book I’m taken back to that holiday and that quest.

Decision Time

I used to keep most of my books even if they had no special memories or provenance.

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 that could be loosely described as 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”.

But that was in the days when I had only a modest collection of unread books. Once I started blogging, that collection exploded.

A few months ago I shared with you the strategy I’m adopting to bring a semblance of order to my piles of unread books. As much as I love having masses of books, I do need to scale back so I can actually get in the storage room where all of these are stacked.

There’s no big cull in the offing. I’m not taking drastic action and sweeping aside whole shelves. I’m just being more pragmatic.

That stack of books I thought I might re-read, is now about half its previous size.

I’m also being very disciplined with myself whenever I finish reading a book. Unless I am absolutely certain I will re-read it, it goes straight into a bag of books to try and sell via or donate to family, friends or charity. Very rarely do I now keep the copy once I’m done reading it.

It was tough doing this at first. I had several false starts where I put a book into the bag only to take it out again the next day. It’s possible I suppose that I’ll experience some moments of regret in the future when I discover a book I fancy re-reading is one I no longer have. But I can’t see that being a major problem; I can always borrow it from the library.

The books I’ve kept are primarily classics. They are books that I think are ultra special. I suppose if I was a devotee of Marie Kondo I’d say they are the books that “spark joy” every time I look at them and read them. The ones I’ve given away might be perfectly good reads, it’s just that they are not special enough to warrant space on my shelves or on my floor.

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 September 18, 2019, in Reading plans and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 85 Comments.

  1. Nice post. I suck at culling my book collection. Totally. So does my husband. (Note: Avid readers/book owners should NEVER cohabit, let alone marry! Unless you live in a mansion! :)) Between the books and the cats there’s barely room for us! πŸ™‚ Although I am not as bad as the woman considering moving her own son out to make more room! πŸ˜‰

    • My husband doesn’t read anywhere like the number of books I do but getting him to part company with any book is guaranteed to create tension in the house. As fast as I put a pile together of books to go out, he decides he really wants to re-read them…..

  2. I used to think that I would keep all the books that came my way. Then, I started getting ARCs for review and realize that I can’t keep up with storing everything I get. I just started going through my shelves (or more correctly) my book stacks and am passing on some books that I think I won’t reread or won’t miss.

    • The ARCs present a particular challenge because they cannot be re-sold so taking them to a charity shop isn’t an option. I try to pass mine on to other bloggers or family/friends but that doesn’t always work

  3. Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins

    Gahhhhh! Parting with books is the WORST! I’ve only done one clean out in the past decade, and even then I only sacrificed the double ups and diet books. AND I’ve still managed to regret THAT, because I donated a copy of Pride & Prejudice that had a better introduction than the one I kept (which I only realised in retrospect). For me, every book sparks joy. I love the sense of realised dreams, the imagination made tangible in pages and ink. If you ever hear of a young woman in Sydney crushed to death under the weight of her book collection, unable to part with any of them, that’s me.

  4. Karen, being a big fan of re-reading, it does makes it easier for me to cull books. If I don’t think I will re-read it goes! Although I don’t always know straight away, so many go back on my shelves and I do review my shelves every year or so. I just did a big cull when I moved my books to our new shelves in the spare room/library πŸ˜€

    • If only I could find the time to re-read but when there are so many first time reads awaiting me, it’s hard to get around to those old favourites. I find if I leave a book on that re-read shelf long enough the appetite to actually do that re-read diminishes

  5. I read that the object doesn’t keep the memory, that the brain does. That helped but not so much with books. I’m trying to get rid of two or three for every new book I acquire. It works sometimes. Books really arre the hardest things to part with except maybe the jacket I wore to tina Turner concert in Melbourne in the 1990s. Lol Still have that too.

  6. I find it hard to get rid of books that I’ve read. I moved house last year, and got rid of about 200. The books I kept (which exceeded those given away) were favourites, or ones that held special meaning for me. My collection has since grown again, and I’ll have another cull once my shelves are full πŸ™‚

  7. I find getting rid of some books impossible but like you I am trying to be sensible now. I only have so much space. So, a weeks ago I went through the books that live in the spare bedroom. They are a mixture of some 19th century classics, modern mass market paperbacks a few modern hardbacks. Many I won’t read again. So, I gathered together quite an impressive pile which later filled several supermarket carrier bags. I donated them to a National Trust bookshop and we took them along last weekend. I worry about some charity shops pulping unwanted books.

    • The Trust will be thrilled by your generosity. I volunteer at one of their properties – the bookshop made Β£27,000 last year which have helped fund some restoration work. I took a bag along on Sunday – by the time I’d finished my shift they were out on display. Only problem was that I spotted another volunteer had donated 3 Persephone’s which looked new. so of course I had to buy….

  8. Did you reblog this. Some of the comments are very old.
    I have a such a hard time letting go. Even more so now than when I was younger. I need to do something about my stacks though.

  9. Have settled on my top twenty/thirty authors and kept their complete works. (Strout, Tyler, Ford, Yates, Robinson, Munro etc.) The rest (14 boxes or so) went to Oxfam. If I buy a ‘new’ author I read and immediately pass on.

  10. Due to space issues and the fact that my children are amassing their own collections, I’ve had to start giving books away. I try to hold on to books I might read or refer to again, but books that I’ve read that didn’t leave a lasting impression have to go now.

  11. Wonderful post. Who has 10,000 books in their home though? πŸ˜€

  12. I think age helps! I used to hang onto everything unless I hated it. However, I’ve become a bit more practical about not keeping every book I read unless it was very special, and I’m actually finding it easier to let go of older books when I really acknowledge I’m unlikely to re-read. It’s thinned them down a bit, but there are still a *lot* that are too emotional/special to go… πŸ˜€

  13. Oh! I feel your pain! I’ve arrived at a recent benchmark: if a book has been on the TBR heap for between 3 – 5 years, then clearly I’m not going to be reading it. This has worked well for me. Enjoyed your post.

    • I have made my list of TBR books older than 5 years and I’m reading 30-40 pages of each one before deciding if I want to keep it. If I keep it and its still on the shelf this time next year, then its definitely going out

  14. This year we have given about 400 books away as ahousehold. Mostly mine but a fair proportion of the girls ones that they had grown too big for . It wasn’t any easy process but being realistic,if I hadn’t read them in a decade or more,it wasn’t likely to happen any time soon!!

  15. 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.)

  16. 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:

    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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

    • 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?

    • 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!

  19. 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?

  20. 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.

    • Sounds like you have everything under control Geoff. Yes my eyebrows shot up when I saw one of the possible steps involves cutting up the book. Sacrilege surely.

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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 Β£2 (plus gift aid) that each book is sold for has raised many hundreds for this worthwhile charity.

    • excellent point about the gift aid bonus Mike. Ive often found the libraries dont want my donation because they have shelf space so the charity shop option is getting more common for me

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

    • Those kinds of events do have the benefit of forcing me to do a trawl through the shelves.n

    • Those kinds of events do have the benefit of forcing me to do a trawl through the shelves. I also now keep a bag handy into which any book I finish goes in prep for my next trip near a library or charity shop.

  28. 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!

  29. 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

  30. 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!).

  31. 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 wayβ€”I haven’t actually got round to scanning any yet but I was thinking about it recently.

  32. 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…

    • 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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….

    • which is why I still cant bring myself to discard all my old classics even if I last read them 20 years ago. Contemporary novels I am far less attached to

  35. 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..

  36. 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.

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