Curating the Bookshelves

Seven years ago, my house had 20 floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and about the same number of half-sized bookcases — about 5000 books, excluding the comics. The house was essentially full of books and comic books. Today I have ten tall bookcases, and a couple short ones. What follows is the road map from here to there — halving the number of books in my life. I have been hearing of many friends having to smallify their space, and maybe this will help!

I guess the first issue is, are your books organized now, or not? It’s tons easier if you’ve alphabetized all your books by author, or at least have all the comic books or the SF or the European history crammed, stacked, or shelved in one (or two or three) spots. In any case, look to do this in small bites, or you’ll die. My husband said he’d shed one shelf (30 books) a month. He was not happy.

The easy first cull is duplicates. If you have four copies of DUNE, surely one is sufficient. Pick one and start an outgoing box with the other three. When making that choice, consider sentiment (it’s my dad’s copy!) or value (Frank Herbert autographed it! To me!). If you wonder about the value of that first edition, pop onto Ebay and look it up. If 43 copies are available for 99 cents, I’m sorry, but it’s not valuable.

But wait. That last copy of DUNE. Think availability. And vision. Do you need your beloved college edition of WUTHERING HEIGHTS, printed on cheap sheer paper in 9 point type? Any time you want to read about Cathy and Heathcliff, the text is on Project Gutenberg, where you can biggify the words to where you can read it without eyeglasses. Anything you can find on Gutenberg or at your public library (CHARLOTTE’S WEB, say, or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) you can find again any time. And yes, DUNE is to that level of popularity. Remember, you can buy this paperback back again for 99 cents on Ebay. You can get it in ebook format on Kindle Let others store all those classics for you, and let it go!

Are you ever going to reread that book? When was the last time you touched it? Are you over the crush on Francis Crawford of Lymond or Han Solo or Horatio Hornblower? I decided that my set of Nero Wolfe detective novels could go, because I couldn’t remember re-reading them recently.

It goes faster if you can select entire categories. All the research volumes you amassed for your Ancient Greek trilogy, or the fantasy with the medieval Portuguese overtones — aren’t you done with those? You might have written more volumes if Steven Spielberg made a movie of the first books, but mysteriously Steve hasn’t called. How long can you wait? After all this time, you surely have moved on artistically, to woods and pastures new. Writers are sharks, we must move forward or die. Leave the books behind when you leave Ancient Greece.

All research and reference volumes that are out of date? Out! Dictionaries? Even the one with the magnifying glass in it should go. You can look up words on line, faster than taking the big volume out.







Curating the Bookshelves — 20 Comments

  1. I’ve got to start dismantling my beautiful library, which is neatly organized. But the thought of lugging all those books downstairs daunts me.

    I agree with a lot of your culls (and I do it in bits, as I can handle) but not the big OED, which gives the history of words, and the many connotations over the years. No online dictionary is that good!

  2. The last time I moved, I looked at the daunting pile of books and declared I wasn’t doing it. I went through exactly the process you mention, Brenda, and my collection was pared down to less than a fifth of what it was–and never once have I said, “Where’s that book about ____?”

  3. I had to dispose of close of 5000 books recently when my brother passed. I had a dealer come in. He took 1000. A friend took an equal amount to 2 other used book dealers. I sold another 1000 or so in the dealers room at a recent convention. Then we took 40 boxes (12″ X 12″) to the thrift store. Finally some breathing room. And then I found 4 more boxes when clearing for an estate sale.

    Did I keep ANY of his? Every one that I picked up that looked interesting was either already in my library or had started on my shelves and wandered to his house at some point.

    My one saving grace was that I have converted to an e-reader and am not acquiring any new books. But hubby is. It never ends.

    • I’m dreading when my spouse retires, and brings his office library home, an accumulation of over thirty years. And he squawks at the idea of tossing anything . . .

      • I’m going to abandon my office library at my office when I retire–all except for a half dozen of my favorites. Half of them were scavenged from previous departees.

  4. I have all Howard’s books to dispose of as well as mine to cull. So far I’ve gotten rid of 1 box of children’s books plus half a box of cool things to friends. Only about 2,000 to go . . . books, that is, mercifully not boxes.

  5. When I moved two years ago, I culled out about 14 copy paper boxes of SF and fantasy (kept separate because our SF club gives away paperbacks at a local media con) and countless bags of mysteries and other books for the thrift shop. I still ended up with about 60 boxes of books and papers that I have to unpack and sort through. I’m slowly rebuilding my collections with ebooks, mostly as they show up on bookbub and other ebook sale sites. These days, I only buy hardbacks as my favorite authors publish new works.

  6. Now, papers. That’s a different animal. I am going to do a -superb- blog post about the SF collection at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Do not, whatever you do, drop your professional papers into recycling! Contact Kij Johnson and Elspeth Healey in Kansas, and ask if they want them. Or Gerald Balestrieri at the University of Iowa. At the very minimum, they may pay to ship the papers from you to them.

    • Also Jeremy Brett at Texas A&M University. They are putting together a good collection of SF/F/H papers. I believe there is a collection in Illinois, too. Jen Stevenson would know.

    • Don’t forget the University of Oregon, which has Ursula’s papers as well as Tiptree/Sheldon’s and Joanna Russ’s, I believe. I think Suzy Charnas has put hers there as well, and maybe Vonda. (Not sure about Vonda’s.)

  7. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 11/24/19 And It Glows So You Can Read It In The Dark | File 770

  8. Or, especially if you’re a relatively well known and long-time resident of a state, see if the state university wants your papers and even books for their historical archive. Stephen King gave all his stuff to the University of Maine, for instance. When you donate like this you get a tax break, sometimes quite a large one.

  9. We moved 350 miles four and a half years ago, and I still haven’t organized the books well, except for (most of) my writing and research books. It’s supposed to be a hard winter, so…once I’m done with bazaars, it’s time for the book sort and cull.

  10. One of the big steps for me was recognizing that it was okay to break up series. I am never again in my life going to reread all of Valdemar or Pern or a dozen other things, even though they were constants of my youth–but I might on occasion want to pick up a single volume for a comforting trip down memory lane. When I do, it’s usually the same volume, but it took me years to convince myself it was okay to keep just that volume, even if it was in the middle of the series, and discard the rest.

  11. We had to empty almost the whole house when we went from carpet to wood flooring. Half of the garage was boxes of my books, packed tight and high. I realized I had to do something. My husband said I could buy any book I wanted, which opened my eyes and I immediately let 16 boxes go. Then I got rid of books that I had as ebook or audiobook (~10,000). I let almost all my romances and mysteries go, but am having so much of a problem with the SF.

  12. @ Oldavid,[von Braun quote]Science isn’t “forcing” anyone to believe anything. There simply isn’t any objective evidence for design (or a designer). If von Braun knew of some, he should have mentioned what it was – it’s not rocket science. ?