Keeping and culling

I find it incredibly difficult to cull my books.

I convince myself that I have a good reason for keeping every one of my keepers. Most of the time I have, but not always. Generally, I keep a book I know or strongly believe I will read again. I have also kept some of my old university text books, knowing that they can be good for reference, and so it has proved, for some of them. Others I keep just because I once enjoyed them, and might again, which leads me me to the next category: the many books that I keep planning to re-read, but I never get round to. My travelogue collection is big on those. And then there are the travel guides I keep that are years out of date, because they have memories attached to them. Can't let go of those, now can I?

I cull about 95% of my owned books after I read them, which is a lot. Many go on my BookMooch list, some I give back to the charity shop, and the hardcovers and the paperbacks that are in a 'like new' condition I donate to the library. I keep telling myself that I should cut down on the book buying and concentrate on books I think I might want to keep after I have read them. Fat chance.

Then there are the TBR books. By my estimation, about 80% of my 900 odd TBR books were bought very cheaply from a neighbourhood charity shop, and most of them on speculation. The rest I got through BookMooch, was given or bought new. I often buy books I would like to read but which end up sitting on a shelf for a couple of years before I either read them or find them and think to myself: "why on earth did I buy this?", and cull them without reading them. I think I have a subconscious fear of seeing a book I want to read, not buying it when I have the chance, then not being able to find it anywhere, leading me to hate myself for not grabbing it when I had the chance. This is of course one of the varieties of the dreaded Reader's Anxiety. Unfortunately, having all those books sitting around unread can cause another variety: the one where you take a look at your bookshelves and think "I will never be able to read all these books!"

On Sunday morning, I finally put into action an idea I have been toying with for a while. I opened the Excel file in which I keep the list of all my books and opened the TBR spreadsheet. Then I opened the website, which is a database of the book collections of many Icelandic public libraries, including all the ones I have access to. Then I made a new spreadsheet, titled TBR-once owned. Then I took a long, hard look at my TBR shelf and noticed some authors whose books I remembered seeing in some library or other. Then I sat down and searched the Gegnir database for all the titles I owned. All the ones that were available from a library I have access to, I moved from the My library spreadsheet to the new spreadsheet, then took the books down from the shelves. Some will go in my BookMooch inventory, and the rest I am taking to a second-hand book shop to see if I can get some money for them. If not, it will be a gain for the charity shop.

The initial cull only yielded 20 books, some by writers whose books I enjoy but nevertheless know I will not want to own. A "what the hell was I thinking" cull yielded another 2 books. 22 books is not much for a library of this size, just barely over 1% of all the books, but it's a start. I aim to get my TBR-owned list down below the 900-mark before the beginning of June, through a combination of ruthless culling, culling with intent to read later, and reading and culling.

Ideally, I should follow up with less book-buying, and since I now have a definite financial goal to aim for - I am saving up for a trip to Egypt - that should make it slightly easier. However, it remains to be seen whether I will merely be making space for even more TBR books, or whether I manage to keep my book-buying impulses under control.


Dorte H said…
900 books on your TBR?

Well, that gives me such a good conscience. Mine is c 60-70 books so I can see there are advantages to being stingy.
Bibliophile said…
Consider yourself lucky, Dorte.

Having ready cash, a habit of indulging in retail therapy and nothing in particular I was saving up for got me into the habit of buying whichever books I wanted, but it wasn't until I actually made a database of all my books that I realised I had so many unread volumes. I have calculated that it will take me about 5 years of reading nothing but my TBR books before I can finish what I already have.
I was thrilled to see that you have 900 books on your TBR shelves. I just ran a tag search for "TBR" on my LibraryThing library and found that my TBR shelves now hold just over 1,000. Yikes! That's 9 to 10 years of reading for me, if I never buy another book!
George said…
I donated 30,000 books to SUNY at Buffalo, yet I still seem to have thousands of books filling my house. I try to use the library (great for LARGE PRINT books!), but then the library has a BOOK SALE and I end up buying plenty. How can you resist a shopping bag of books for $2.00?
Bibliophile said…
How indeed? Book sales are irresistible, as are bargain bins, garage sales and flea markets.

30 thousand books is a sizeable library. I hope the library people were pleased.
George said…
The SUNY at Buffalo librarians did a great job cataloging the books and making the collection accessible. They even designed a web site:
Bibliophile said…
George, that is so cool. It's great that you were able to find a good home for your collection.

If I were to donate my 40s and 50s pulp paperbacks to the local library, they would in all likelihood end up at the recycling center.
George said…
As the era of e-books approaches, I think real books, like your pulp paperbacks, will take on the collectability of sculpture. Books will become more valuable as they become more scarce. Feel free to visit the Kelley Collection anytime!

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