The summer marches on and here we are in August. This is usually the part of the summer when I am aware of the impending fall semester, but there’s still enough time to get some projects done thanks to long days and no grading. This year, I’ve decided that the room I use as my office at home needs sprucing up to infuse some new energy into my work, and so I’m redecorating and painting (one wall of Glidden Rich Raisin, three walls of Glidden Clay Bisque). Because I will have to uproot many of my books from their normal resting place, I’ve decided that this is the perfect time to re-organize my collection of books.
This will be no small undertaking. The last time I counted, I had over 800 books. I’m sure I have more by now. For the past two years, I’ve been ferrying excess donations to a local public library from a friend’s house to a “Free Books” cart at the school library where I work. Students snatch them up fast. No matter how hard I try to resist, I can’t stop myself from looking through the new batch before bringing them to school. I always keep some for myself, so I’ve definitely picked up many more books than I would have if I had been only been purchasing them. My guess is that I’ve passed the 1,000 mark.
This increased rate of book acquisition has wreaked havoc on my previous organization as I have searched for creative ways to store my newest volumes. I did break down and buy a new bookcase, but I still have books on the coffee table, on end tables, on windowsills, and on the dresser. When I realized that I had two stacks forming on the office floor, I knew that was the last straw.
Despite the way it sounds, I am not a hoarder. I don’t like clutter, I live fairly simply, and I like to travel light. I was different when I was younger, but moving 15 times in 18 years has pretty much burned any tendencies I may have developed towards collecting material possessions. Apparently I have made an exception for books. But as much as I love them, I feel like they’re starting to close in on me. It’s time to get ruthless.
But what goes and what stays? There are a few easy answers. While moving the contents of my office bookcases to another room so I could prepare for painting, I began to suspect that I had duplicates of a number of titles. If this is the case, then it’s a no-brainer: get rid of the extra copy.
I also found books that I’d forgotten I had. At first I was excited, thinking that it was like getting a new book, full of promise and potential. Then, flipping through the pages, I would start to remember why I had put that book all the way in the back of a shelf in the corner of a room. I’m not really sure what I was thinking would change, but I must have thought that I would eventually be interested in the topic of the book.
I am still not interested. Away it goes.
There are other clear-cut cases. My favorite books stay, no question. There are also a lot of books that get a lot of use for teaching, and they obviously need to stay put. Reference books are also non-negotiable, especially my linguistics section (which is far more impressive than my local Borders ever had). The bulk of the books that will remain on my shelves are ones that I haven’t read yet. I may keep some, I may send some away, but not until I’ve read them.
After this, it becomes more complicated. There are some books that I liked, but do I like them enough to re-read them, or even parts of them? Will I ever find them useful for teaching? If it’s a non-fiction book, am I really interested enough in this topic to get through the entire book? Is there enough of a sentimental attachment that I should keep a book even if it’s not useful or re-readable? Not being a particularly sentimental person, I imagine this last question will often be answered with a “Nope!” The other questions will require much thought.
In the past, whenever I have tried to get rid of some of my inventory, I’ve managed to find anywhere between a whopping five to ten books that I was willing to part with. Impressive, no? My goal this week is to get rid of more. It almost feels sacrilegious to write that. I love books. They have kept me entertained and informed, and they have even kept me company during lonely times. Some of them have been with me for more than half my life. But I never want to feel like the books have taken over.
As long as I stick to clear criteria and refuse to engage in the fantasy that I will have all the time in the world to read everything, or educate myself in every possible subject I take a fancy to, then I should be okay. In moments of weakness, I’ll watch a few minutes of “Hoarders” which invariably makes me get up and throw at least one thing away. There may be a few rough patches, but doesn’t every mama need to let her babies leave the nest at some point?
How do you decide what books to keep, and how do you organize the ones that stay?