read or dust?

The Latin Quarter, Paris, France

 

A couple of people asked how I decided which books to keep and which to give away.  Faced with a wall (or several walls…) of books that you have carefully cultivated over decades is daunting.  You have invested a lot of money and emotion in them.  They have been old friends.  You have carted them from house to house, packed them up in boxes, unpacked them again.  Arranged them by size/colour/subject/Dewey Decimal Classification (well maybe that’s just me).  You may even have read them, maybe even twice.  All of them?  No.  Recently? No.

I rest my case.

Go up to your bookshelf/bookshelves/book piles/library (delete as necessary) Go to a random shelf and without pausing pick out ten books you have either just acquired and haven’t had time to read yet but know you will within the next two months or have already read but are so fantastic that you know you will have to read again within the next six months.  No cheating, no going to the pile of books that just arrived from Amazon, no wandering around cherry picking.  One shelf at random.

How many did you find?

I rest my case again.

The biography of the Duchess of Devonshire may well have been fascinating but are you a historian?  Are you going to go back and check facts?  Are you a Mitford aficionado and will reread it over and over?  Or are you just keeping it because it looks good on the shelf?

My first degree was in philosophy.  I had an admirable collection of philosophy books from original texts to commentaries and commentaries on commentaries.  Today I am a stay at home mum.  I do not have an illustrious career or a glamorous high-powered job.  I like that.  I love doing what I do and if you flick through my gratitude journal you would see I offer up my gratitude for that on a regular basis.  However, there have been times when I have been made to feel small and insignificant because I don’t go out to work.  At those times it is nice to flick through those philosophy books and remind myself I once read them all and even understood them.

Codswallop.  I don’t need a pile of dusty books to boost my self-esteem and furthermore I am never going to read them again.  Somebody else with a pile of student debt would probably be grateful for them.

Some books will have been presents or belonged to relatives.  You can’t get rid of them because you would feel guilty.  How about feeling guilty that you are hoarding all those precious books which you are never going to read again.  Think of the Tate, The National Portrait Gallery, The British Museum.  Imagine your indignation if they were closed overnight and only a very select handful of people were ever allowed to visit them and see the artwork and artifacts they hold.  But even worse, those people never bothered to go.  That’s you and your never to be read again books.

By all means keep some for sentimental value.  I certainly did.  Some of the hardest books to give away were books from my childhood.  Though oddly enough as I child and a voracious reader I regularly did deals with the chap who sold secondhand books from a dingy shop on the corner of  Hillgate Place and Uxbridge Street.  I took him 100 or so paperbacks in part exchange for another selection, which in turn would be returned to him for another and so on.  The shop has long gone and last I saw it was a trendy deli.  A shame, Notting Hill Gate has plenty of trendy delis, it needs good second-hand bookshops where children can learn to explore and learn the art of part exchange.

I’ve preached to you long enough.  But please, look at those bookshelves again, take off the rose-coloured spectacles and really look at them.  Somebody else could love them, could really use them.  Somebody else might read them rather than just dust them.