what about you?

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?

14 thoughts on “what about you?

  1. Ah. Books. Like me, you were probably brought up to revere books! Growing up abroad, I coveted books because I didn’t have access to so many in English. Our suitcases would be full of books whenever we returned from England visits… A teacher’s daughter, we weren’t terribly well off living in expensive Switzerland but I was allowed to order books from the kids’ book club that came around twice a year, as many as I wanted, and fortunately we had good school libararies, but I was a voracious reader and encouraged to be such, so that we always had a lot of books at home. We then all became translators with varying specialities, and so the collection of books merely increased… You can imagine what happened when the internet and Amazon came around!!
    Meanwhile, I have now culled at least half of my books, probably more over the last 10 years. I never counted them, I just need them to fit in my home!
    What remains falls into several categories:
    – my childhood books and some of those of my children (others passed on to grandchildren), mostly out of print
    – my husband’s childhood books, usually more factual than mine (he’s Swiss!), this is how we learnt general knowledge as children!
    – my cookbooks – severely weeded to only those I use but still quite a few
    – my history and biography books – mostly old and not available electronically, my speciality
    – my art and exhibition books – for pleasure and browsing
    – my interior decorating books – dito
    – my few travel books – sentimental because I can trace the well-thumbed pages
    – my collections – I have a weakness for certain series 😉 includes a lot of classics
    – gardening books – a great reference library despite the internet, and oh the visuals!
    – I have very few dictionaries left, now, but a few specialised ones that come in useful occasionally, as well as a little specialist literature
    – my craft books – those I actually work from
    – miscellaneous fiction and non-fiction – regularly culled but there are quite simply some keepers in there! Some have been inherited from older relatives. I love old books!
    – my husband’s sailing books, his main hobby
    – my horse/riding books, my big hobby
    Getting rid of many books wasn’t hard – anything I thought I could easily get hold of again or wouldn’t read again could go, so that was quite a lot. These days, I either pass on books I buy and will only read once or else if available, read them electronically (sad I can’t pass them on in that format!). Otherwise they will take over again!! The worst thing was finding somewhere to take the books where they wouldn’t be destroyed – the Swiss expect you to put books in the paper recycling and this seemed like sacrilege. Fortunately, the brocante was willing to take mine and has a fairly good English section. Just this week I missed a book, I think for the first time in years. It’s no longer in print but was very popular at the time and I will probably find it cheap at the brocante or online.
    Our books reflect our interests and our lives and I wouldn’t for the world get rid of all my books, no matter what the minimalists say. As usual, I think it’s a matter of common sense.
    I am delighted that my daughters all love to read and even my husband, now. The Swiss tend not to be big readers – originally I had my books in my living room but got tired of visitors being overawed and asking if I’d read them all, as if I had put them on for show, and moved them all out to a spare room! Now I don’t have a spare room and have limited space, so it makes sense to only keep that which is most meaningful to us. And I keep them accessible so that quick reference is possible as and when required.
    And yes, I often reread or browse all of my books 🙂
    Sorry for the long hijack but books is a big subject for me!

  2. Not a long hijack at all, really interesting thank you. The difference is that you know why you keep certain books, my grouse is with people who just hoard them and never use them, or worse use them for show and justify doing so by claiming some higher intellectual authority. I can identify the frustration of having nothing to read in one’s native tongue. When working in Barcelona I was so desperate to read or speak English that I read an entire copy of Woman’s Weekly lurking in the office from some long gone British visitor from cover to cover. I was about 25 at the time and it was not my usual reading at all, but I remember that evening very fondly!

  3. I do have a lot of books in the house. I do have a cull occasionally though and do pass books on to friends if I know they’re books that they’ll enjoy. That’s part of the love of reading for me – being able to share it.

    The books that I consider keepers are my old smelly books that usually have a memory attached. Some are fiction, some non-fiction, but I can usually tell a story about each one to anyone who will stand still long enough. Then I have a bookcase for reference books. I don’t refer to them very much any more as the internet is much more up to date, but I still love leafing through them sometimes as again they bring back memories of when I bought them or had them bought for me. And some of them are things of beauty, with gorgeous illustrations.

    I have one bookcase that contains favourite books and authors. I may or may not read those again but I loved them so much that I want to keep them. Just in case.

    I have a couple of bookcases with my To Be Reads on. I like to have a huge selection to pick from as I never know what I’ll be in the mood for when I’m ready to pick my next book.

    Then there are the rest of them. Authors that I’ve loved in the past, books that I’ve always thought that I might reread. I do need to have another purge and let some of them go but it’s hard. I’m just so fond of them. Books are like old friends and every time that I pick one up and try to put it in the charity box pile, I somehow find myself sitting down and starting to read it. I really do need to have another purge soon. I’m running out of space.

    Sorry for the long reply – you really shouldn’t get me talking about books…

  4. I grew up in a house where books were revered. My parents had bookshelves bowing under the weight. They still have the books, but they are now in boxes in the garage as they no longer have room for them all. I do like going for a rummage in their house and finding something to read, but I don’t keep many books at home.
    We have quite a lot of kids books, as they do get reread, and we have some full sets of things we love (Harry Potter and Narnia spring to mind) which we will never get rid off, but for the most part, I read a book once and I will never read it again. There is so much out there to read, that I don’t generally choose to reread anything. Therefore, I used to read and then give away. And now, mostly I read on my Kindle. I know there are people that love books and hate Kindles, but it would appear I love words, or stories, and not physical books, so I am more than happy with my Kindle. And, I don’t need to buy anymore bookcases.

  5. This is an interesting post, Gillie, and I enjoyed reading the responses as well. My husband and I are both book-lovers–not necessarily book hoarders because we can pretty easily get rid of books that are “stinkers”, one-timers, or airplane reading. We both have some of our favorite childhood books, which are so nice to read to our two small children now (reliving the memories and all). My father was a rare book collector and had a library of over 1,000 books when he died. At the time, I lived in a studio apartment in NYC (tiny!), so I took about 40 of the most beautiful ones and sold the rest to an estate book seller (there are two photos of some of the prettiest books I kept in this post, in case you want to take peek: http://www.joyfullygreen.com/2012/12/from-the-page-to-the-screen-are-e-readers-greener-than-books.html). It still pains me a bit that we had to part with all (or most) of the books that he so lovingly collected but, books being what they are, I’m sure they found loving new homes with people who had proper space for them.

  6. Hi Gillie!
    I just wanted to let you know that I nominated your blog for a Liebster Award in my latest post, which is here: http://www.joyfullygreen.com/2013/09/spreading-the-words.html. You can read all about what exactly a Liebster Award is (I didn’t know either until I got one!), and the Related Articles at the bottom contain the rules (my post was already running long and I just didn’t have the space to include them). I hope you will have fun with it–I certainly did!

  7. Disposing of books is turning into one of my biggest challenges. There are so many I’d like to keep for sentimental reasons but know I’ll never look at. The ones with cold hard facts are kind of useless now that I can google anything. The ones with great pictures tug at your heart… Hopefully I can find them good homes. 😦

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