Last week I spent a day in two separate school libraries weeding old, outdated collections. There were novels on the shelf that had copyright dates from the 70s, and had clearly been there for that length of time as well. There were classic books with horribly out of date covers, (editions that I remember from my own childhood) obscure and likely long out of print books, and some highly inappropriate titles for an elementary school. (I don’t think 6th graders need Game of Thrones on the shelf!) The principal had already committed funds to begin restocking the library, and yet, the librarian was having a great deal of trouble letting go of the books we suggested pulling off of the shelf. Books, as most of us would agree, are highly collectible. Whether it’s a beautiful picture book, a special interest title, or an autographed novel, letting go of a book is an incredibly hard thing to do. As Book Lovers, we form an attachment to books, finding infinite reasons not to get rid of them.
In case you think I’m throwing stones, as this picture of just one of my bookshelves at work will show, I’m equally guilty of book hoarding. If an author has been kind enough to personalize an autograph (especially those who are talent artists and draw a doodle) to me, I don’t give it away. To me, they are markers of special moments where I was given the privilege of meeting the creator of something that I enjoyed. Whether I ever plan to read the book again or not doesn’t matter- it’s the experience associated with receiving the book that does. I’m also a sucker for really beautifully produced books. I love fancy end papers, embossed covers, glossy paper, etc… it makes the book an even more special treasure, and I certainly can’t give those up. The list goes on. I keep them because I loved it. I keep it because it’s beautiful. I keep it out of guilt, because someone thoughtfully sent it to me to read and I simply haven’t had the time. I have volumes of series I’ve long since abandoned, ARCS I managed to get digitally and read long ago, and stuff that I fully intended to read, and just missed.
I look at weeding as a process in stages. First is denial that I need to weed. Surely I can find room on one of my shelves to add a few new books. Then comes acceptance. I truly have no more room. The shelves are double lined, stacked and sagging, and it’s not going to get any better. I have to get rid of something. Then comes the first pass. This is the stuff that I can immediately dismiss. Stuff I don’t need to look at to know that I’m not going to ever read it and don’t really remember why I wanted to. Usually this process gives me the illusion of doing something more than anything else. I mean, come on- who are we kidding here? How many of those easy tosses do I really think I have? (Here’s a hint- not nearly as many as I think I will!) Then comes my attempt at sorting into likely to read and unlikely to read. And I say attempt, because once I start re-reading the back, I start thinking all over again that I might read it, and put it back in the pile.
Now I take another look at my piles and realize that I’ve gotten rid of all of two books and it’s time to get down to business. As sad as it makes me to give them up, I finally have to admit that if I haven’t read it yet, and I’ve held onto it for years, it has to go. There are thousands of books published a season- more than I will ever be able to read in a lifetime, and as much as it pains me to admit, I’m bound to miss something now and then that I really wanted to read. I also have to acknowledge that as much as I think I will miss them, once they are gone, I won’t even remember what I gave away. (Only occasionally have I ended up hunting for something months later that I culled) Finally, I take into consideration who I know that might appreciate the discarded books. I don’t have kids, and neither does my brother, but I have neighbours with kids, co-workers with kids and customers to whom I can always pass on a special read, etc….Knowing that they are going somewhere where they are appreciated and needed makes giving books away a lot easier.
At the end of the day, I can look with satisfaction upon the newly empty shelves, knowing that it won’t be long before that space is filled up again with all of the new books that I collect with every intention of reading…someday.