Decluttering books has been possibly the most controversial thing I have done. I have written a full post about it here. However, it is still something that rises hackles when I mention it and has got me wondering about why.
The answer is, I think, not a pleasant one. Essentially book hoarders fall into four categories:
- Academics or other specialists or professionals who need (or believe they need) to keep a large library of reference books. As I am the child of one and married to one I feel I am relatively well qualified to speak! My mother was a lawyer and made regular reference to the All England Law Reports which lined her study. My husband is a medic and a translator. He tends to read most academic papers online, although for his sideline is medical translation he has a wall full of dictionaries, some quite old and very specialist. Some used regularly some rarely but essential when they define some obscure medico legal term last used during the First Republic.
- Collectors. My mother falls into this category again in that she collects cookery books, from early seventeenth century handwritten ones to Delia Smith. There is a place for the collection of social history and books can do this very well, but it is all too easy to slip from discerning collector of items of historical and personal interest to unthinking or obsessive purchaser of items you may never even open let alone read.
- Forgetful readers. The person who enjoys reading and purchases a lot of books which are read for pleasure and/or personal enrichment. But then puts them back on the shelf and never reads them again. It’s not wanton hoarding but just not quite getting around to doing something about the books.
- Snobs. The person who may or may not have read the books on their shelves but who feels that having vast quantities of books, gives them a certain cachet.
I believe that most of the people who sniffed with horror at the news I was having a massive book cull fell into the latter category. When questioned about why they kept their books they expressed shock that I could even ask the question. One just did not dispatch books (other than perhaps “airplane reading”). Yet almost none of them could put their hand on their hearts and say that they regularly read or even irregularly reread those books.
Some books are kept for emotional reasons, I have plenty of those. Some books are kept because they have an intrinsic value or are family heirlooms. But the majority of books on most people’s shelves are books that have been read once and will probably never be read again . They may be quite learned, they may be interesting biographies, they may be well considered modern novels or ancient classics. They all look “good” and they are all gathering dust and could be passed on to somebody who will read them.
I know what I would rather do with those kind of books. What about you?