Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cleaning Out Book Shelves


On a recent Sunday, the mood struck me to finally weed out the three shelves in our big wall of books that are dedicated to my collection of memoirs. The shelves were sagging under stacks of books piled in front of rows of books. Since I teach memoir and review memoirs, there's a steady influx of them, and they need to be curated once in a while so that this is truly my collection and not just an accumulation of books.

So, how to weed them out?

I decided that finally I would not keep a book I didn't like or don't use for teaching. As I picked up each book, I asked myself:
  1. Do I love this book?
  2. Will I ever look at it again? (for books I had read)
  3. Do I really want to read this? (for books I hadn't read yet)
If my answer was "No" to any of these questions, it went into my donation box for Open Books, a literacy charity here in Chicago.

If only, however, it were that easy! Question No. 3 proved to be especially tricky, and quickly a "Maybe" pile was developing. And "Maybe" piles are dangerous as they tend to wander back into whatever I've been trying to clear out. I allowed myself a day of having the "Maybe" pile sitting around, and then, when the morning came to cart off the donation boxes, I got another box and told myself to be a grown-up and really free myself of this obligation to keep books I should be reading. Enough of that!

I am happy that I now have one shelf (it's the lowest in the photo) where my "to read" books live, separated by language and by a stack of my current all-time favorite go-to books, namely Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way series, topped by a jar of favorite pebbles from Rogers Park Beach. It's such an orderly life now, and an inviting reading life, too! At least where my memoir collection is concerned...

There are still plenty of other shelves to weed out, so if you have any book management advice to share, bring it on!


6 comments:

  1. I've got books packed away in boxes, on shelves, and in various nooks and crannies. Someday I'll have to get myself to go through them.

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    1. Or you will move and pack them up again...

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  2. I went through my bookshelves back in 2005 when I moved from Texas back to my hometown in Illinois. Looking at my shelves now, you would never guess I gave away over half. Obviously, I am an addict. Must memorize the Serenity Prayer. :)

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    1. Roan, I empathize! I went through all our books back in 2007 when we installed our big wall of books, but similar to you, the books are mushrooming all over the place again, so purging is required here and there.

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  3. You're a brave woman. About once every ten years I clean bookshelves out. This will be the year because I'm trying to declutter in general for renovations we hope to start before the year is older. I still have boxes of books in the basement from our move ten years ago because we had more shelves in our old house. Needless to say, one part of the renovation will be to give me more shelves, not fewer books. Of course, since I started my MFA, my TBR pile is getting taller and taller.

    As for an organization plan, my real concern is how to create a book database on my computer, one that is easy to search. I've recently realized that I can't find some books and I don't know if I lent them to someone. If I had a database I could have a space to note who has them. Some of these modern online systems have you taking pictures of the isbn code, but a lot of my books are pre-isbn, so I have to type everything in to whatever system I develop.

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    1. Julie, the task of creating a book database sounds worthwhile but rather daunting. Why not just keep a log of the books you lend? I have books organized by category so even though we have a lot, we can usually find what we are looking for, and it's also pretty easy to see what we have.

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